By Paula Holmes-Greeley | The Muskegon Chronicle
How much political power should one person and his company be allowed to purchase?
And why didn’t West Michigan’s senator fight against it?
Those are the questions West Michigan residents should be asking about the international trade crossing debate — except there will be no more debate about construction of a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor. That’s because the members of the Senate Economic Development Committee, including Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, who represents Muskegon County, won’t let a proposal come out of committee so the full Senate can debate the merits of the plan. The same plan the governor has said is crucial to the state’s economic recovery.
Here’s the back story: Matty Moroun, the only person to privately own a border crossing in the United States, holds a virtual monopoly over traffic crossing between Detroit and Windsor because his company, the Detroit International Bridge Co., owns the Ambassador Bridge and collects the tolls drivers pay to cross the bridge.
Forget the Windsor tunnel, the Michigan Department of Transportation website calls the bridge “North America’s No. 1 international border crossing.” It’s estimated 10,000 commercial vehicles cross the bridge on a typical weekday carrying 25 percent of all merchandise traded between the United States and Canada.
Moroun also owns the Ammex Detroit Duty Free Store, which has a monopoly on duty-free fuel, which is why Moroun is a billionaire and why he has been able to spend more than $5 million on advertising to kill discussion of a proposed second bridge, owned by the public.
Gov. Rick Snyder proposed the bridge in his first State of the State message. He described the bridge as a win-win providing jobs for construction workers, creating a more direct route between Canada’s main thoroughfare and major U.S. highways and alleviating the backup that typically slows traffic across the single, 81-year-old bridge.
All of this could happen without a penny of investment by Michigan because Canada is willing to pay Michigan’s $500 million share and be repaid by tolls, the governor said. Better yet, Michigan could use Canada’s contribution to leverage its federal gas tax dollars in case the state’s matching funds fell short, which was expected this budget year.
Goeff Hansen was one of just four senators to receive $4,000 from the Morouns in 2010. Most lawmakers received only $1,000 from the $1.5 million the Morouns dumped into the election. When asked about his bridge vote, Hansen weakly responded in a prepared release that he was concerned about a government-owned bridge competing against one that is privately owned — and he opposes government expanding its size and scope. He also said he was worried about taxpayer risk if the tolls didn’t generate enough revenue.
Nevermind that trade with Canada supports 3,300 jobs in Muskegon County.
Nevermind that the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber and the chambers in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo had endorsed the new bridge.
Nevermind that Hansen’s 34th Senate district is home to the largest number of food processors in the state, businesses that ship internationally along with parts suppliers and numerous others.
Nevermind that Moroun’s ads have been roundly criticized as inaccurate and misleading by the Michigan Truth Squad, which does vetting on political ads for truth and accuracy.
Nevermind that there is no limit on the amount of money Moroun can spend, even though the Michigan Campaign Finance Network says the anti-bridge campaign clearly is grassroots lobbying, which is covered by Michigan’s campaign finance laws. No state officials are making Moroun comply with the law.
What is everyone afraid of? Are they concerned that Moroun will focus his billions on defeating them in the next election if they disagree with him? If they require him to follow the law?
How is that representing the voters of your district?
The bridge issue isn’t on the radar of most West Michigan voters. As one online blogger posted on mlive.com, she’s never seen the Ambassador Bridge and never expects to. Apparently, she doesn’t work for a firm that exports its goods, either.
But what about an issue that hits closer to home? What about a casino? Or funding to clean up toxic hot spots? Or money to expand or improve a roadway?
What if someone like Matty Moroun used his billions to oppose that?
Michigan needs to revise its campaign finance laws to reduce the impact of one corporation, whose owner has an ax to grind.
And our senator needs to represent the people who elected him and what’s best for them.