The wording of Proposal 6 appears unremarkable, even innocuous.
“A proposal to amend the state constitution regarding construction of international bridges and tunnels,” says the title of the ballot text.
But when Michigan voters tick Yes or No for the proposal on their Nov. 6 ballots, they’ll be deciding a critical battle in the bridge war — likely the most important battle on the issue in years.
“It’s the first public vote that this issue has ever had,” said Tom Shields, a former spokesman for the Detroit River International Crossing project and current spokesman for the Michigan group Taxpayers Against Monopolies.
“It’ s tremendously important to the economy of Michigan, the economy of Canada, and certainly the city of Windsor.”
Filed by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun, Proposal 6 would force any new international border crossing related to Michigan to be subject to statewide and local votes.
If passed, the proposal would strike a major blow against the New International Trade Crossing (known as DRIC on this side of the border) that’s backed by the U.S. and Canadian governments.
Shields insisted that the binational government agreement on the new bridge is “rock solid,” and that the passing of Proposal 6 would only slow down and not defeat the project.
But Shields conceded that Proposal 6 would give Moroun legal ammunition for “years of delay.”
“We want to move forward (with construction) this winter… That’s what’s really at stake here,” Shields said.
“The court system doesn’t move as fast as we’d like it to. A perfect example is the Gateway Project. There were almost five years of litigation on that project until the judge finally threw Moroun in jail to prove a point … and turned the project over to the state to finish it.”
“Delay is the name of the game that the Morouns use all the time.”
After more than a decade of study, planning and negotiating, the construction schedule of a second Windsor-Detroit bridge will be directly affected on Nov. 6.
Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Company has been careful not to frame the dispute as Moroun refusing to give up his virtual monopoly on cross-border truck traffic.
Instead, the Moroun-funded ballot committee The People Should Decide has been portraying Moroun’s campaign as a defence of Michigan taxpayers and an appeal for democracy.
“We ought to be investing in making Michigan a better place to live and do business, rather than building a bridge to Canada we don’t need and can’t afford,” says a piece of promotional literature released by The People Should Decide on Wednesday.
“That’s why it’s so important to vote Yes on Proposal 6 — so you have a choice on the new bridge.”
According to Shields, nonpartisan groups agree that Moroun’s ad campaign is misleading, and Michigan taxpayers won’t be on the hook for the cost of the new bridge. “It’s just a tactic (the Morouns) are using,” Shields said.
Advocates of the new crossing — including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce — have been hitting back against Moroun with their own public awareness campaigns.
Asked who funds Taxpayers Against Monopolies, Shields said the group has the same backers as the DRIC project, with contributors “both from the business side and labour.”
“We file our financial reports along with everybody else…. The group was started up jointly by the Grand Rapids and Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.”
Chambers of commerce on both sides of the border have been rattling their sabres — urging their members to deny Proposal 6 and be vocal about their endorsement of timely construction of a new bridge.
Meanwhile, backroom wheeling and dealing has ramped up as the ballot date approaches.
Critics say Moroun already has a deal in play with the group Americans For Prosperity, buying the group’s support on Proposal 6 by bankrolling its campaign on Proposal 5 — a ballot initiative to limit taxes.
Last week, the Detroit Free Press reported on Moroun bartering with the United Auto Workers for the union’s support on Proposal 6 in exchange for Moroun financially backing Proposal 2 — the union’s ballot initiative on collective bargaining.
Reportedly under pressure, UAW leadership backed away from the deal, with union president Bob King saying the UAW would remain neutral on Proposal 6.
The UAW’s recent hints of support for Proposal 6 were made all the more embarrassing by the revelation that earlier this summer, King wrote a letter to the U.S. federal government extolling the benefits of a new bridge crossing.
Shields said he’s confident Moroun’s motives will be transparent to Michigan voters. “He believes that everybody has a price.”
“In the end, the voters will turn down this proposal.”