Bridge issue has no place in state constitution

Livingston Daily

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun has made a lot of money with the only bridge-crossing between Detroit and Windsor. He and his family have spent a chunk of that money in order to put a question on the November ballot that would require a statewide vote before a second bridge could be built connecting Michigan and Canada.

That’s his right. But voters shouldn’t be hoodwinked. Voters — even those who aren’t convinced that the new bridge is a good idea — should vote NO on Proposal 6. Such a law has no place in the state constitution.

It’s easy to see why Moroun doesn’t want the new bridge, which would be built two miles from the Ambassador as a joint project between Canada and Michigan.

The Ambassador Bridge is one of only one or two privately owned bridges between the two countries, a fact even more unusual given that the Ambassador is easily the busiest of all such international crossings.

Credit Moroun and his entrepreneurial skills for that. A billionaire who grew up on Detroit’s east side — Forbes magazine ranked him as the nation’s 321st-wealthiest American — Moroun had the foresight to purchase the bridge in 1979.

He’s crafty as well, working the laws of two nations to his advantage. As such, he sells duty-free gas on the Detroit side, pocketing most of the 60 cents in taxes that competing stations must charge.

He’s also been obstinate, delaying the construction of approach ramps to the extent that a frustrated judge tossed the 85-year-old Moroun into jail overnight last January for failing to follow court orders.

Moroun’s strategy is obvious. The longer he can delay the construction of a competing bridge, the more money he makes from tolls. The longer he avoids the completion of the Gateway Project at the Ambassador Bridge, the more duty-free gasoline he can sell.

Moroun has money to spend. He — or entities owned by him and his family — have pumped millions into manipulative advertising campaigns that contend that the proposed bridge will be a boondoggle to taxpayers, despite contractual guarantees that Michigan tax dollars will not be used. Further, Moroun and his family are frequent and generous donors to state legislators, who have turned their back on the project, forcing Gov. Rick Snyder to use other tactics to get the bridge built.

Moroun’s latest scheme is to finance a petition drive to force a referendum — Proposal 6 — on the November ballot. If passed, it would take a statewide vote before a bridge or tunnel could be constructed between Michigan and Canada.

As irritating as Moroun’s tactics are, there are reasons to sympathize with him. He has a successful venture that will surely suffer financially if the new bridge is built. Few in the private sector would look kindly at a government project that directly competes with their business.

There is also the concern that — despite the backing of just about any and all business leaders — the economic projections for a new bridge may be overstated.

On the other hand, the Ambassador Bridge is getting old, delays are a supply problem for manufacturers, and the Canadian government has made it clear that it will never approve a new span that continues to dump traffic into downtown Windsor.

The arguments for and against the bridge are beside the point. The construction of such a bridge should be decided through normal state and federal channels. It should not be controlled by a constitutional amendment, any more than the Latson Road interchange at Interstate 96 in Genoa Township should be embedded in the constitution.

Such specifics are not the purpose of the governing overview of a state constitution. Voters should see this gimmick for what it is and vote NO on Proposal 6.