Calabrese: A GOP Bridge Too Far

Dan Calabrese / The Michigan

There is no conceivable reason a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor should be controversial. Infrastructure to facilitate commerce and trade is as basic a function of government as you can possibly find.

And yet Michigan Republicans, particularly those in the state Senate, can’t seem to get past the idea that such a bridge – if built using public funds – would be a “government bridge.” The Ambassador Bridge is a notable exception, but just about all bridges are government bridges. Just as the highway interchanges surely championed by the very same senators who object to the government bridge – if requested by local officials in their districts – are “government highway interchanges.”

This is one of the things government does. It builds infrastructure – and that includes bridges.

It is not unusual, when government proposes to spend money on infrastructure, that people question whether a project is needed, or whether the costs are reasonable. And sometimes the project may not be needed, and the costs may not be reasonable. It is very unusual, however, when the debate is not whether the infrastructure should be built, but whether it should be built by government or by a private party that has designs on a bridge monopoly – as Matty Moroun does.

Now the project appears dead because Senate Republicans – who think Mr. Moroun is worth listening to – last week killed Snyder’s bridge bill in committee.

Moroun has done a fairly effective job of painting himself as some sort of persecuted private businessman who is having his business venture stunted by evil government bureaucrats. If you really look at the facts, his argument is not very convincing, but it’s convincing enough that anti-government conservative activist types are willing to buy it, and that’s got Senate Republicans sufficiently cowed that they can’t cobble together a majority to pass the bridge bill, even though the Canadian government fronts the money and we pay back our share out of several years worth of bridge tolls.

Republicans think they now have cover to oppose the bridge because the Snyder Administration – needing legislative support and not finding it on their own side of the aisle – went to Democrats, who saw an opportunity and demanded “benefits” for residents of the Delray neighborhood in southwest Detroit where the bridge would be built.

But the Democrats would never have been in a position to extract a price for their support if Republicans – rather than losing all sense of perspective – had simply supported the bill. Instead, they had to be heroes to the activist anti-government movement, which might now take the next logical step and demand that our nation’s wars be fought by private sector entrepreneurs as well.

Gov. Snyder seems to think he has some other options, although ineffectual Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville indicates that he will not take up the bridge question again any time soon, since GOP senators have painted themselves into a rhetorical corner on the question and won’t touch the bridge question with a 10-foot poll (or a mile-long span as the case may be).

So we continue to deal with Ambassador Bridge bottlenecks. Detroit-Windsor trade routes remain inefficient. Matty Moroun still doesn’t get his second bridge, because the Canadian government won’t approve it no matter how many commercials he puts on the air. And the Democrats’ friends in the Delray neighborhood don’t even get their goodies.

The problem here is really not Matty Moroun. It’s the Republicans in Lansing who thought his objections mattered, and mucked up the mechanism of international trade because proving their ideological bona fides was more important than performing a basic function of government when it was necessary to facilitate value-added economic activity.

I hope they’re proud of themselves.