By John Irwin
Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge owner find themselves in the middle of a heated debate over the Nov. 6 ballot’s Proposal 6.
Proposal 6 would require a vote at the state level and in the affected municipality to approve construction of any “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles.”
The initiative, spearheaded by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun and his Detroit International Bridge Co., is designed to block construction of the New International Trade Crossing, a second Detroit-Windsor bridge.
Snyder signed an agreement with the Canadian government last June approving the bridge.
The agreement specifies that Canada will pay for the $550 million bridge in its entirety through pay tolls and, should those not cover the costs, they will pick up the tab completely, meaning Michigan taxpayers will pay nothing for the bridge through taxes.
“This is a winning opportunity for all Michiganders, and we shouldn’t let one special interest get in the way of good public policy to say, ‘Let’s build for Michigan’s future, let’s create more and better jobs and a bright future for our kids,” Snyder said in a YouTube video posted last month detailing his opposition to the proposal.
Moroun and the Bridge Co., through the political group The People Should Decide, have spent millions of dollars in campaign advertisements blasting Snyder’s agreement as misleading, saying Michigan taxpayers will have to pick up the tab.
“It may end up being free during their term in office, but eventually we the people are going to be paying big for it,” one man says in one of the group’s recent commercials.
The Michigan Truth Squad, a part of the bipartisan think tank Center for Michigan, ruled many of the group’s claims, including that one, false.
“The battle over a second bridge is about money – the Moroun family’s money,” the group wrote in a Bridge Magazine article. “The expectation is that a second bridge will reduce traffic on the existing Ambassador, thereby costing the Moroun family money.”
At least 6.5 million vehicles have passed over the Ambassador Bridge annually since 2oo6. The toll rate is $4.75.
Moroun also profits from selling tax-free gasoline at his duty-free gas station just off the bridge. The station typically sells gasoline at just a few cents below the market average, meaning the money that would normally go toward taxes (roughly 60 cents per gallon) goes directly into Moroun’s pockets.
Snyder has encountered difficulty gaining support for the new bridge.
An EPIC/MRA poll released last month for the Detroit Free Press and other media found 47 percent of voters in favor of Proposal 6, compared to 44 percent who would vote against it.
Although the idea of a second bridge has enjoyed popularity among Democrats in Lansing for years and has come under frequent Republican opposition, Democrats are more likely to support the proposal (49 percent to 42 percent) than Republicans (41 percent to 49 percent).