While Gov. Rick Snyder had significant success in the first six months of his initial term in office, his bridge to Canada so far has been, if not a Bridge to Nowhere, then a Nowhere Bridge.
The new governor hoped the public-private bridge would be approved in June. As proposed, the new bridge would offer an alternative to the aging and privately owned Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit with Windsor, Ontario.
It didn’t happen because his fellow Republicans in the Legislature aren’t sold on the idea. Some may be reluctant for the government to compete directly with a private venture. Others say they want guarantees that the bridge is needed and that the Michigan taxpayer is truly off the hook, as is claimed by Snyder, his predecessor and the Canadian government.
Prudence is a good thing. Lawmakers should do due diligence. But there needs to be swift action this fall. Republicans should either approve the package or give clear, explicit reasons for their opposition. So far, the opposition has been more like foot-dragging and mumbling about not getting all their questions answered. As such, Republicans are sounding like enablers for Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun, a lavish political contributor who earns more money every day the project is delayed.
It is time for lawmakers — and that includes Livingston County’s Republican trio of state Sen. Joe Hune and state Reps. Cindy Denby and Bill Rogers — to get off the fence. They’ve been able to cut taxes to business without any proof that it will produce jobs. They are willing to reform tenure (Rogers), bail out financially stressed townships (Denby) and deprive the state of $300 million by cutting tobacco taxes (Hune).
They ought to be able to take a position on the bridge.
It’s possible to oppose the bridge on the strictly philosophical reason that the government shouldn’t get involved. That would be odd, since almost all border bridges are run by governments. But it’s still a defensible position.
If lawmakers won’t oppose the new bridge on philosophical grounds, then there are a few arguments come down to these:
What is the cost to Michigan taxpayers? Supporters say there is none. Canada will front Michigan’s $500 million share for road improvements, expecting to get repaid through toll receipts. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, has introduced legislation that specifically says the state has no financial vulnerability. If Republican lawmakers think their governor and Senate leader are stupid or liars, they need to say so. Otherwise, the claim that tax dollars are at risk appears to be bogus.
If not this bridge, then what is the alternative? Government and business leaders say a new bridge is needed, even though traffic is down over the last decade. They say backups at the Ambassador Bridge and at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron hurt the economy. Further, the lack of bridge capacity will strangle future economic growth. The Ambassador Bridge is nearing its 100-year life span. Moroun agrees a new bridge should be built, but he wants to do it at his current site. The Canadian government, though, opposes the plan because it doesn’t want truck traffic dumped in downtown Windsor. If the Canadians won’t approve Moroun’s bridge, then what alternative plan are Republicans proposing?
Are state Republicans willing to turn their backs on $2 billion in road money? Snyder pulled a coup by getting the federal government to count the Canadian money as the state’s match that is required to qualify for federal highway funds. Michigan roads are atrocious, and this batch of Republicans is hardly inclined to raise gas taxes to fix them. Even if they did, there is still $2 billion in federal money — which state residents sent to Washington in the first place — sitting on the table. That offer won’t be there forever. How in good conscience can Lansing lawmakers put those funds at risk?
If Lansing takes action, the bridge is still not a sure thing. The projections for increased traffic are not universally accepted. It remains to be seen if private investors will find the bonds attractive if they are not supported by the full faith and credit of the state.
But that’s a decision for investors to make. Lawmakers have a obligation to the voters — and the unemployed citizens — of this state. They need to make a decision and, if they are opposed, clearly explain and defend their position.
Otherwise, their dawdling increasingly appears as a willingness to serve the needs of Moroun rather than the needs of their constituents.