The quest to build a new, public bridge over the Detroit River has truly plumbed hitherto unseen and moronic depths: Michigan will consider amending its constitution so a billionaire ex-con can preserve his monopoly over the busiest commercial border crossing in the world, at the expense of the economies of two nations.
The state’s supreme court has ruled that voters will decide in the election Nov. 6 whether the second bridge — supported by almost everyone except Matty Moroun, the 83-year-old owner of the Ambassador Bridge — will be built.
The petition for the referendum was brought by a group called The People Should Decide. But it’s not “the people.”
It’s Moroun. The group is paid for by Moroun’s company. It hired people to collect the signatures. It has spent $4.6 million this year so far opposing the bridge, according to the Michigan Truth Squad, part of the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Michigan.
Moroun also gave money to two of the supreme court judges who made the ruling last week, the Detroit Free Press reported this week. Moroun, his wife, their son and their daughter-in-law each maxed out their allowed campaign contributions to the two judges who are running for re-election. They gave a total of $27,200 in June — while certification for the petition was pending — to justices Brian Zahra, who wrote the majority opinion to put the question on the ballot, and Stephen Markman, who agreed with the opinion. Two employees of one of Moroun’s companies, contributed another $3,900 to the judges’ campaigns.
Now, Gov. Rick Snyder’s office says it’s “imperative” for voters to “get the facts,” to “make sure they get the full story and can make an informed decision.”
Does he mean the minority of voters who actually cast ballots? Or the even smaller minority who know more than the names of their parties and the incumbents?
I’m betting the 600,000 people whom Moroun’s canvassers got to sign the petition didn’t “get the facts” and make “informed decisions.”
And Moroun of course isn’t interested in letting the people decide. He’s paying a ginormous amount of money to make sure they make the right decision — that the government shouldn’t build a new bridge because it has no business interfering with his lucrative monopoly.
His latest television ads have graduated from untruths to the absurd. Canada is anteing up $550 million to cover Michigan’s share of the cost. Yet the ads say the bridge will cost the state “high quality teachers for our kids, more cops on the beat, firefighters and EMTs (paramedics), reduced pension taxes for our seniors. Real cuts hurting real people.”
“ … last year alone Canada dumped seven million cubic yards of trash in Michigan landfills,” the ads say. “(Snyder’s) bridge will bring in even more trash from Canada.” Ontario agreed to stop shipping municipal trash to Michigan in 2010, according to the Truth Squad, which, shockingly, believes that public discussion should be based on facts. Shipments of Canadian trash from all sources dropped 20 per cent last year and is expected to fall again this year.
The Truth Squad ruled the television ads a “flagrant foul.”
Here’s another good one: The People Should Decide asked in its mailer, “If the new government bridge for Canada is such a great economic boon for Michigan, why did the Michigan legislature, repeatedly, vote against building it?” It didn’t. It has never reached a full vote by the House or Senate. A Senate committee rejected it, and here’s the kicker — after Moroun contributed to the campaigns of several committee members.
Windsor West MP Brian Masse says we need to make sure we have the resources to counter the millions that Moroun will spend on this vote. But Michigan is broke. Taxpayers Against Monopolies, a lobby group supporting the new bridge, admits it’s going to be outspent 100 to 1.
Nevertheless, it says it’s on the “right side” of this issue, and it’s confident that voters will see through Moroun’s scheme. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much being on the right side of the issue counts. And the only thing I’m confident about is voters’ heads are going to spin when they see the ballot Nov. 6 and the crowd of people and gaggle of issues they’re supposed to vote on. They’ll be there all night.
The bridge question, to be Proposal 6, is only one of six referendums. And they’re not piddling. One would enshrine collective bargaining rights in the constitution. Another would require a two-thirds majority in the legislature for a tax increase (that one is also backed by Moroun). Yet another would require state utilities to get 25 per cent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.
Some proposals might have some merit, but they don’t belong in the constitution and they certainly shouldn’t be all-or-nothing questions. It makes me wonder, with all due respect, how do Americans govern themselves?
All this is happening, of course, after Snyder signed an agreement with Canada last June to build the bridge. Meanwhile, the Windsor-Essex Parkway, the $1.4-billion route from Highway 401 to the new bridge, is one-third complete …
By the way, Canada’s leader of the official opposition, Thomas Mulcair, was in Windsor on Monday and criticized the federal government for not being forceful enough on the bridge issue and not standing up to Moroun. (I thought offering up $550 million for Michigan’s cost was pretty forceful.) Regretfully, Mulcair didn’t proffer any solutions himself.