Leaders Must Lead

Dome Magazine

Rich Robinson

It would be a great understatement to say Lansing interest groups are sharply divided over the ballot questions Michigan voters will decide in November.

Using crude shorthand, you could say that Proposals 1, 2 & 4 pit labor against business. Using the same overly simplified kind of description, Proposal 3 is a contest of environmentalists against the utilities and their industrial customers.

Of course, shorthand papers over nuance and alliances, but the issues in Proposals 1-4 are mostly pretty clear. We’ll see which campaigns succeed in persuading the electorate.

Proposals 5 and 6 are utterly different. Almost no interest group with a stake in a well-functioning state supports either of them. According to what has been reported, the financial empire of Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel J. “Matty” Moroun is the sole source of all funding for both proposals. But outside the political class in Lansing, almost no one knows that.

Over the 20 months preceding the approval of Proposal 6 for the ballot, the Detroit International Bridge Company spent $10 million on a television ad campaign to persuade Michiganders that a new publicly owned bridge between Detroit and Windsor was not needed and a bad idea.

That’s not to mention the $880,000 the Moroun family –MJ, Nora, Matthew and Lindsay– has given to officeholders, their PACs and parties over the last two election cycles, including a $100,000 contribution from Matthew Moroun to the Michigan Republican Party three weeks before enabling legislation for a new bridge was killed in the Senate Economic Development Committee.

The Morouns are pursuing their interests –monopoly rents, in perpetuity– loudly and proudly.

On the other hand, Business Leaders for Michigan, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Rapids Regional Chamber, the Michigan Chamber, Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, agricultural producers and a host of unions that would benefit from the jobs created in building a new bridge, all say they support a new publicly owned bridge. The evidence of that support, so far, is a paltry $300,000 TV ad flight that ran in some media markets in June.

It may be that Gov. Snyder’s deal with Prime Minister Stephen Harper really is bullet-proof and the fate of a new bridge doesn’t depend on the outcome of Proposal 6. But what if it does? Or, what if we need a new train tunnel under the Detroit River to realize a regional transportation hub? Or, what if we need a new bridge at the Sault sometime after you and I are dead? It would be insane to leave Matty’s Revenge embedded in the Michigan Constitution.

Leaders of business and labor, Republicans and Democrats, from west Michigan and southeast Michigan, need to speak out against the duplicitous garbage coming out of Moroun’s propaganda shop, to help the confused citizens beyond Lansing understand that our shared economic future must not be surrendered to one man’s insatiable greed. Matty Moroun will never land a new bridge in Canada. That shouldn’t thwart the interests of two nations.

Proposal 5 –call it Matty’s Revenge II, in recognition of Liberty Bell Agency’s funding– seems to be even harder for our leadership class to confront than Prop 6. Its effect would be more destructive than Prop 6, but it has a populist following in TEA Party Nation. It will take more courage, and probably more money, to defeat Proposal 5. But the stakes are enormous, and Prop 5 will not be defeated without courageous and outspoken leadership.

Requiring a supermajority for any tax increase is the policy innovation that has made California ungovernable. It is the trademark of the most economically squalid states in the nation. Already, our legislators can’t find the courage to raise a gas tax that would allow us to redeem our state’s full share of federal highway funds. Can you imagine our roads if it took a supermajority? Can you imagine trying to broaden the base of sales taxes to cut the rate? Can you imagine ever raising the beer tax by a penny to clean up the effects of alcohol abuse?

Interest groups need to call a truce in their pyric Spy vs. Spy warfare and demonstrate to skeptical voters that we do have shared interests in defeating Proposal 5. Leaders need to find their voice and lead.

When you think of the good he could do, there is probably no more tragic figure in Michigan than Matty Moroun. He has chosen a role of enemy of the State. He must not be allowed to succeed.