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.

Deal between U.S. and Canada reinforces the need for the New International Trade Crossing

Auto industry pleased by border deal

Harper, Obama pledged to expedite the movement of goods

By Grace Macaluso, The Windsor Star

WINDSOR, Ont. — Canada’s auto industry Wednesday applauded the joint action plan on border protection designed to ease trade and travel between Canada and the United States.

“We are very pleased,” said Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, which represents such car companies as Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. “The direction is what the industry has asked for.”

The wide-ranging plan, unveiled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama, pledged to expedite the movement of goods. There will be screening of cargo from foreign countries to Canada and the U.S., so that it is screened just once for both nations, the document stated.

Click here to read the entire article.

Detroit International Bridge Company co-opts Tea Party for one man’s gain

By Average Joe

A curious commercial by the Detroit International Bridge Company keeps popping up on local television. The spot claims that dastardly Michigan politicians are trying to waste $2 billion in taxpayer money to build another “bridge to nowhere.”

While the commercial would have viewers believe it is the effort by a concerned group of citizens to stop a government boondoggle, it turns out the “Detroit International Bridge Company” is just a front for billionaire Manuel Moroun.  Mr. Moroun owns and operates that Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.  As it turns out, Mr. Moroun’s private ownership of the bridge grants him a de facto monopoly over one of the country’s busiest commercial traffic routes.

So when his commercial proclaims “we don’t need [another bridge],” no one should take that statement as face value since we do need Mr. Moroun’s bridge.  And Mr. Moroun’s ownership of the crossing has proven quite lucrative for him.

Currently, the eighty year-old bridge is clogged with traffic.  Mr. Moroun insists that traffic is down by half since 2000 and construction of a new bridge would leave him unable to pay his bills.  Of course, much of the decline in traffic was due to the collapse of the Detroit auto industry and has rebounded since.  Further, the decline hasn’t stopped Mr. Moroun from planning how own brand-new bridge…right next to his current one.

If anyone wants an example of how the Tea Party mentality laid waste to effective public policy, Mr. Moroun’s campaign to keep his bridge monopoly is it.  With assistance from the Koch brothers, Mr. Moroun has effectively “co-opted some of the Tea Party movement” and made his bridge a case of “free enterprise versus big government,” making governing Republicans terrified of opposing him.

Indeed, watching Mr. Moroun’s commercial, the appeal to the Tea Party mentality is obvious.  Viewers would believe any new bridge would merely be another case of excessive government waste.  The truth, however, is that this appears to be the case of one man’s “free enterprise” standing in the way of everyone’s economic progress.

The new bridge’s biggest advocates are the state’s Republican executive and a coalition of local businesses and the Big Three automakers.  As Michigan’s lieutenant governor puts it: “Everyone wants a private bridge. The question is, do they want a private bridge for one politically active family with exclusive access to a monopoly?”

There’s a question that goes utterly unaddressed by the Detroit International Bridge Company.

Tom’s Corner: New bridge

WWMT

(NEWSCHANNEL 3) – To build, or not to build, that’s the question lawmakers are debating about a new bridge spanning from Detroit to Canada.

The ads are out there, asking you to support the idea.

In this installment of Tom’s Corner, Tom Van Howe suggests there may be another reason the new bridge is on hold.

– – –

Those sincere and alarming TV spots asking for our support for the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge in Detroit are back on the air, and in order for us to believe them, that a new bridge is bad for business and bad for Michigan taxpayers, we have to disbelieve of governors, Snyder, Granholm, Blanchard, Engler and Milliken as well as the people at Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda and Toyota, and the Chambers of Commerce in every important city in Michigan, Canada and Northern Ohio as well as the Free Press, Detroit News, Grand Rapids Press and the Toledo Blade as well as virtually every significant employer in the state.

In these turbulent times, that is quite a collection of people on a single side of an issue, but let’s go back to the beginning.

30 years ago Grosse Point billionaire Matty Moroun bought the already 50-year-old span in the name of the Detroit International Bridge Company. It remains the busiest international border crossing in North America.

Matty Moroun owns a monopoly on commercial truck traffic, and owns the nearby Ammex Detroit Duty Free Store which has a monopoly on duty free fuel sold at near retail prices.

The bridge runs from downtown Detroit to downtown Windsor. City leaders in Windsor want to move it a few miles south to rid the city of traffic congestion, air pollution and urban blight cause, a Canadian court said just a few days ago, by Matty Moroun.

The congestion on either side of the bridge is so bad the Ford, in 2010 lost nearly $14 million due to more than five million hours of delays.

So, there’s huge support for the new bridge two miles downstream. It would speed things up by linking commercial traffic directly from Canadian and American highways, and here’s the best part, the Canadians are willing to pay for it, all of it.

Speaking to the Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce last month the General Consul of Canada, Roy Norton, said “I’m not trying to sell you a bridge, I’m actually trying to give you a bridge.”

The Canadians estimate the cost at about a billion dollars and say they’ll front $550,000,000 and finance the rest.

By special arrangement with Washington, that Canadian infrastructure investment would free up more than two billion dollars in available federal highway dollars in America and could create some 10,000 construction jobs.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but our legislators can’t seem to get behind it.

Oh yeah, did I mention that in 2010 the owners of the Ambassador Bridge spent more than $500,000 in campaign contributions to our elected men and women in Lansing. But surely that would not get in the way, would it?

It’ll be coming up for a vote again soon. Let’s pay close attention.

In this corner, I’m Tom Van Howe.

MIRS QUOTE OF THE DAY

“The only thing accurate in that ad was the fine print at the bottom that reads, ‘Paid for by the Detroit International Bridge Company.'”

– Brad WILLIAMS, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, speaking about a television ad airing in Michigan that’s critical of the proposed second span across the Detroit River.

MIRS News

Senators Want NITC Testifiers Under Oath

The chair of the Senate panel charged with flushing out the proposed new international bridge debate said today he is looking into the process of putting those testifying in front of his committee under oath.

Sen. Goeff HANSEN (R-Hart) today asked Sen. Mike KOWALL (R-White Lake), chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee, about requiring people to raise their right hand and swear to tell the truth before taking the stand. This comes as the panel eyes an Oct. 26 vote on the bills that would clear the way for the bridge — SB 0410 and SB 0411.

“This is vital information that we’re getting,” Hansen said. “This is much too big to be going on hearsay or things that aren’t exactly right. We have to make sure what we have is the truth.”

Kowall said he would speak with legal counsel on Thursday to talk over the situation.

Under Senate Rule 2.102, any senator has the authority to administer oaths to any person who comes before a committee of which he or she is a member. Any committee, by resolution, is authorized to administer oaths and subpoena witnesses.

Those refusing to be sworn or testify or anyone who deliberately interferes with a Senate hearing can be held in contempt and be penalized by up to a 5-year, $1,000 misdemeanor, according to state law.

The subject came up during today’s Economic Development Committee as Detroit Regional Chamber Vice President Brad WILLIAMS went about debunking the televised ads being run by the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) against the proposed second span across the Detroit River, known now as the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

At one point in the hearing, Williams said he would never call anyone a liar and then was interrupted by Kowall before he could continue.

“Please stick to the facts,” Kowall said. “I will extend the same courtesy to you when the other side testifies, as well.”

Williams went line by line with the claims made in the ads, about how traffic counts don’t justify the need for a second crossing over the Detroit River and how every Michigan family will be stuck with $194 in new debt, among other claims.

The first television advertisement, he said, were numbers the DIBC twisted and mutilated to fit their purposes. The second ad, he said, was flat-out false and untrue.

“The only thing accurate in that ad was the fine print at the bottom that reads, ‘Paid for by the Detroit International Bridge Company,'” Williams said.

After the hearing, Kowall worked out with the rest of his committee the subjects that would be dealt with in the final five hearings he’s planning on holding on the NITC subject. At the next hearing, he’s inviting Ford, General Motors and Chrysler to testify about the need for a second crossing.

At the second hearing, Kowall wants a discussion about the “community benefits” angle — what can residents of the Delray neighborhood expect for signing off on a new international crossing running through the heart of its community?

A deeper discussion about traffic projections will be reserved for a third hearing. The Gateway project is the subject of the fourth hearing. The fifth hearing is being reserved for legal issues.

Each committee meeting will be divided into one hour for those supporting the NITC and an hour for those opposing the bridge. If one side does not wish to offer witnesses in support of its position, the other side will be allowed to testify for the full meeting, Kowall’s office reported this evening.

Bridge fight rages, but there’s no doubt a new span is needed

BY JOHN GALLAGHER
DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

When the Ambassador Bridge opened in 1929, it carried five lanes of traffic instead of today’s four.

As vehicles became wider over the decades, the Ambassador’s lanes were reduced to accommodate them. Yet even four lanes are considered too few given today’s traffic volumes, in part because the Ambassador lacks dedicated lanes for prescreened cars and trucks.

The resulting delays are more than just hassles for people traveling between the two countries; they add to the price of cars and hurt the economies of both Canada and the U.S, according to one study.

For these reasons and more, just about everyone involved in Michigan’s great bridge debate supports building some new bridge to replace or supplement the Ambassador.

The question boils down to who would build it and own it — Ambassador owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun as a private businessman or the citizens of Michigan and Canada through public authorities.

For Moroun and his family, it’s a clear case of upgrading their existing infrastructure.

“You wouldn’t deny Ford, Chrysler or GM retooling for a new model year. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Mickey Blashfield, Moroun’s director of government relations.

But Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is Gov. Rick Snyder’s point person battling to win approval for the publicly owned New International Trade Crossing (NITC), said the advantages of the NITC project over Moroun’s replacement span are so obvious, the NITC will win.

“It will happen,” Calley said.

Both bridge options look better than status quo

Earlier this year, a study by two Canadian universities estimated that delays at the Ambassador Bridge have added $800 to the cost of every new vehicle produced in the U.S. and Canada.

That alone, say many advocates of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, should justify a new span to replace or supplement the 82-year-old Ambassador.

But there are other reasons why it makes sense to replace it. So many reasons, in fact, that the Moroun family themselves, owners of the Ambassador, want to build their own new bridge and keep the Ambassador mostly as a backup.

Proposed New International Trade Crossing Location

Some benefits of a new span, such as extra lanes to speed up traffic flow, would result from either the replacement span the Morouns want to build or from the government-owned New International Trade Crossing (NITC) project that Gov. Rick Snyder supports.

Other benefits would flow from only the NITC project, such as a direct connection to area expressways on both sides of the border. The Morouns’ replacement span would land trucks on surface streets in Windsor.

But if there is general agreement on the need for a new span, there is, of course, bitter debate over who should build it. Mickey Blashfield, the Morouns’ director of government relations, characterizes Snyder’s arguments for the NITC as, “Oh, my God, the sky is falling, we need a new bridge,” while he portrays the Morouns’ plan as a simple upgrading of what they operate now.

Faster customs processing could be another benefit of a new bridge. A newly designed bridge with a customs plaza designed for today’s needs would work more efficiently than the existing facilities.

“Things have changed since 9/11,” said Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general to Detroit. “It doesn’t mean that existing capacity all became outdated or irrelative, but standards are certainly higher.

“At the busiest crossing, you ideally would have customs plazas that were built to offer scrutiny to post-9/11 standards as opposed to ones that have to be jury-rigged for those standards.”

Ron Rienas, who is general manager of the public authority that is trying to add a second span at the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, N.Y., and Ft. Erie, Ontario, said an additional span helps make border crossings more efficient by providing dedicated lanes for trusted travelers programs; allowing for additional lane closures that speed up common bridge maintenance, and supplying overall border redundancy in cases of an actual bridge closure.

When connected to a modern plaza — such as is proposed with the NITC project — a second span also would lessen air pollution by reducing traffic backups and congestion, he added.

The Ambassador Bridge also needs significant maintenance, including a re-decking now under way that causes further delays.

The study by professors at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University found that backups at the border, some because of new security checks, create such a burden on automakers as to seriously impact the economies of Ontario and Quebec. With automakers dependent on just-in-time delivery of parts, delays of even a few hours can cost them.

The study said any benefits for Canada gained under the North American Free Trade Agreement “may have evaporated, or at least been negated, by the re-emerging priority of new security-driven barriers to trade at the border.”

Senate Economic Development Committee hearing canceled in wake of ongoing Senate session

Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and Detroit Regional Chamber were among those expected to testify in support of the New International Trade Crossing

LANSING, Mich. – Today’s Senate Economic Committee Hearing regarding the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) has been canceled due to the ongoing Senate session.

Those expected to testify in support of the NITC were representatives from Chrysler, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and the Detroit Regional Chamber as well as former Supreme Court Justice Cliff Taylor.

There are more than 120 business, labor, and community leaders and organizations representing more than 10,000 businesses and hundreds of thousands of Michigan employees supporting the construction of the publicly owned Detroit-Windsor bridge.

The proposed NITC will bring a $1.3 billion investment to the state, leverage more than $2 billion in federal matching highway funds, and provide an estimated 10,000 construction jobs with no cost to Michigan taxpayers.