EDITORIAL: Voters shouldn’t fall for Moroun’s ballot proposal

The News-Herald

Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a deal to construct a second bridge across the Detroit River on Friday, and all that seems to stand in the way of getting shovels into the ground is federal approval.

But as we’ve learned, nothing is certain when Manuel “Matty” Moroun has a stake.

The Ambassador Bridge owner will almost certainly sue to keep the project from proceeding and, in America, that’s his right if he feels his business is being threatened.

All the same, voters in the region and across the state need not go along with the bridge owner’s current campaign to clog the wheels of progress.Moroun is bankrolling a petition drive that would require voter approval before any bridge or tunnel is constructed across the river. Ads touting the drive have warned voters that Michigan taxpayers will be stuck with the cost of the bridge.

As Snyder and several media watchdogs have pointed out, that isn’t true.

Michigan’s share of construction costs — about $550 million — will come from Ottawa and be repaid with tolls. The cost of a customs clearing center in Detroit will be handled by the U.S. government.

Business leaders on both sides of the river had been calling for a new span even before the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks slowed traffic on the Ambassador Bridge due to more stringent customs checks, and the jobs the preparation and construction of the new bridge can only help a region that’s still feeling the full effects of a worldwide recession.

What’s more, Moroun’s petition drive adds a needless step to the democratic process.

We elect legislators and executives for a reason, and to call for second-guessing anytime someone rich and powerful enough to prompt a petition drive needlessly gums up the business of the state. Snyder, stymied by a state Senate committee, found a way to get the new bridge built without a dime of the state’s money. Michigan’s voters easily elected Snyder to tackle the state’s economic problems, and he’s done just that.

Tough times call for creative thinking, and we admire the governor for seeking ways to move the state forward in spite of a handful of legislators who seem to have put Moroun’s largesse ahead of Michigan’s interests. Call us cynical, but billionaires don’t spread money all over the state capitol just to make friends; it’s because they want to make sure they get their way.

Michigan has long neglected its infrastructure, and rehabbing the state’s roads and bridges has been one of Snyder’s priorities as he seeks to make the state attractive to new businesses.

We hope the new bridge prompts lawmakers to realize the same thing and work with Snyder in that direction.