Snyder out-maneuvers Morouns, legislators to get critical bridge project going

So it looks as though Gov. Rick Snyder will get his bridge ... which is to say that the people of Michigan will get their much-needed new bridge across the Detroit River.

Obviously, this is not going to happen overnight.  Those busy folks over at the Detroit International Bridge Co. (a.k.a. the Moroun family, which owns the Ambassador Bridge) will no doubt be hiring all the lawyers they can to drag the New International Trade Crossing project into any and every court they can dig up.

And Matty Moroun's seemingly endless streams of cash will continue to fill our TV screens with yet more blatantly “factually challenged” ads. He also will continue his petition drive, paying for signatures to get a statewide vote on building any new international bridge.

The governor’s folks maintain that wouldn’t affect their plans, regardless. But it’s clear there are a whole lot of moving parts to anything as complicated as a major new international bridge across the Detroit River.

In the long view, however, getting the bridge into place will produce thousands of construction jobs once work starts. The project will provide the keystone for an economic development strategy that could add tens of thousands of permanent jobs to Michigan's economy in the decades to come.

Here’s the fundamental reality we can’t forget: Michigan is tied closely to Canada, our nation's largest trading partner. Couple the new bridge with an improved railroad tunnel under the river and with facilities linking Detroit Metropolitan Airport with Willow Run. Add to that trans-Atlantic freight coming to and from the deep-water port of Halifax via the Canadian National Railway.

All together, this gives us the components for a tremendously powerful logistics system that knits together road, rail, air and water transport to provide integrated access to all of Middle America‘s markets. That’s a compelling vision for the future.

We found out a lot more about our governor during this struggle. Rick Snyder describes himself as a "nerd,” a tough one. No one ever figured him, though as a Machiavellian strategist and brilliant schemer on a par with one of his predecessors, John Engler.

But when you study closely what happened, that's the inescapable conclusion.

Snyder unexpectedly pledged to build the bridge in his first inaugural address. As the months went by, it became clear the legislators, happily taking Moroun campaign money and chanting anti-government ideology would never approve a bridge in any form. So what did our governor do?  He immediately started working on a way to bypass the Legislature to get it done.

He discovered Article III, Paragraph 5 of the 1963 Michigan Constitution, which says, in part: "This state or any ... governmental authority ... may enter into agreements for the performance, financing or execution of their respective functions with ... the United States, the Dominion of Canada or any political subdivision thereto."

He also was shown the federal International Bridge Act of 1972, under which Congress said a state could enter into an agreement with Canada "in the case of a bridge connecting the U.S. to Canada."

The press conferences last week featuring Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it clear just how powerful the use of an "interlocal agreement" working with the Michigan Strategic Fund would be. Here, it serves as a device to pave the way for a bridge to be built with no Michigan taxpayer money involved. The Canadians are furnishing up to $550 million in financing. Even better, the U.S. government is allowing Michigan to use that to qualify for more than $2 billion in matching money for improving state roads and bridges.

What a deal!

Who directed the governor’s attention to these precedents?  None other than one of the smartest and most experienced "old Lansing hands,” Richard McLellan,* who was one of John Engler's closest advisers and, among other things, was a founder of the Mackinac Center, the libertarian think tank in Midland.

In addition to his willingness to listen to McLellan, Snyder reminds me of Engler in two other important ways: First, he has a relentless and remorseless focus on the long-term importance of a very few crucial initiatives. Second, he has the ability to seize on unexpected and powerful ways to get done what ordinary politicians had blocked.

People with long memories don't need to be reminded that Engler was the governor who created the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a public-private partnership that depends on "interlocal agreements" with economic developers around the state. 

Engler appointed Snyder his first chairman of the MEDC, and there is no doubt that Snyder remembered clearly just how powerful the MEDC, the Strategic Fund and their interlocal agreements could be in getting things done.

It has been far more common to see Snyder compared to the last great moderate Michigan governor, William G. Milliken.

But what is essential to understanding our present governor is how much he resembles in imagination, intensity and shrewdness one John Engler. Nobody who watched Snyder win election in 2010 as a "moderate non-politician" could have expected this. Nobody who expects Snyder to roll over when challenged should forget it.

*Richard McLellan is a member of the Bridge Board of Advisers.

Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via email.

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Tue, 06/19/2012 - 9:09am
When Mr. Power doesn't like you and thus doesn;t like how you do anyhting or what you are involved with he will belittle everything you do, your rights and what you have done, and what the ublic wants or even how the public systems work be damned. "Moroun family, which owns the Ambassador Bridge) will no doubt be hiring all the lawyers they can to drag the New International Trade Crossing project into any and every court they can dig up" Mr. Power obviously that the legal system should be available to all in our society. For whatever reason he feels the use of the courts should only be used by those who he agrees with and not extended to all otherwise why would be create the impression that Moroun families use of the system will only be to abuse it? "And Matty Moroun’s seemingly endless streams of cash " for Mr. Power is it obsviously wrong for Moroun family to be wealthy and have earned their money within the law. Mr. Power obviously doesn;t believe they have the right to spended it for their own benefit and one that might benefit the community. He simply feels it is deteriment to our society that they have that money and are spending it is some way he does like. I have yet to hear from Mr. Power how the Ambassadior Bridge has been such a disservice to out community over the years, how it is in such deteriorating condition as all of the publicly (State and locally) maintained bridges are, how the Bridge adminstrators have kept coming to the public for large governemnt infusions of money. If the Moroun family has donw such a bad job with the Ambassador Bridge why has he reportd on State and Federal fidnings showing that or would he then have to compare that perfroamnce to the State performance. As best I can tell either Mr. Power is down on private ownership of any public faciltiy or he just is down on the Moroun family. In either case he has little interest in public concerns. Mr. Power has his his answer and he doens't have a careif it fits the questions.
Mike Ritenour
Tue, 06/19/2012 - 9:53am
Duane, If you don't care enought to proof-read your (nearly unreadable) rants before posting them, it's hard for us to care enought to consider their content. As to the merits of Mr. Power's editorial, you have completely missed the point. Phil is not attacking the Moroun family's wealth or their right to access the courts. He is attacking its anticipated use of those things to advance its own selfish, dishonest goals: to stifle public investment in a clearly beneficial project solely for the purpose of protecting their monopoly (read stranglehold) on internation trade through Detroit and Windsor. The family appears determined to continue to act against the best interests of We The People unless and until it (1) kills the project entirely, (2) cuts a deal where it is the only entity that gets to own another bridge next to the one it already owns, or (3) runs out of money. While certainly the Morouns have a right to do as they please with their money, that doesn't make their choices right, appropriate, honest, or honorable. It is beyond comprehension how anyone, even the most radical right-wing ideologue, could believe that it is in the interests of the people or National Security to have the single busiest, largest, most important, and most economically essential crossing between the United States and another country in private hands. No one is saying they can't continue to own that bridge; they're just going to have to up their game in order to compete. Isn't that what capitalism is all about? Didn't they buy the bridge knowing that one day another was likely to be built? Where did they get the idea that they're the only ones entitled to own such a bridge? I disagree with Governor Snyder on many issues, but in this case he is absolutely right.
Sun, 06/24/2012 - 11:48pm
Mike you are right to point out my sloppiness, I will try to do better. It is fair for you to call my comments a rant, since that is all that the Bridge, the reat of the media, and in this case even the Governor's office seems to want to hear. Within my rant did yo find any questions that were credible enough to get answer? If is is so risky to have such public facilities in private hands then why are cities and states selling such things as their toll roads to private groups? As for what is honourable, is it honourable for our Governor to ignore the vote of our legal representives and cut a deal for something that there is questionable support for by the majority of the citizens? As for national security, what has gone wrong at the Ambassador Bridge and their practices that have place ot security at risk or is that you believe all State and Federal employees are the only ones that can keep us secure? It seem that at the highest Federal levels there have been some significant secuirty leaks. I do believe that Moroun business has working to build another bridge next to the current one for years and it has been politics that has prevented that from happening. That would leave me with the impression that they have been more committed to the future river crossings then the governemnts.
Elliott Walters
Tue, 06/19/2012 - 4:58pm
I didn't see it as an attack on the Moroun family so much as a statement of the facts. The Moroun will hire lawyers and try to tie this up in the courts. They will use their seemingly endless supply of money (at least it seems like it to me) to support more "blatantly factual" ads and to tie up the state legislature. The disservice to the community was sending 10,000+ trucks per day through the neighborhoods of Detroit for years when they had an agreement to connect the bridge to the local freeways. Personally, I like the $2 billion in "matching" funds that Michigan will get from the Federal Government. I believe in capitalism, but when it comes to monopolies, the rules change. The U.S.'s number one trading partner is Canada. Thirty percent of that trade goes through the Detroit/Windsor corridor. And we don't want to make that better?
Sun, 06/24/2012 - 11:59pm
Elliot, As best I can tell the reason the truck have been going through the local roads for years is because the State would not do hwat they do on the rest of our major highways and build the ramps to them. When the SilverDome was built the invested millions for access ramps from I-75. I would have thought with all of the importance that people are giving to the truck traffic across the River that it would have had a higher priority than a football game 7 Sundays a year. If the truck traffic is so important to Michigan, I wonder why I-94 is so congested. I would seem that if you want to improve Michigan businesses access to the such markets as Chicago there would be work on making I-94 three lanes all the way rahther then having it go from 3 to 2 to 3 to 2, for if you haven't noticed that slows trucks and discourage the route from being used. I am still currious about the accountablity; are all the State owned bridges as well maintained as the Ambasssador Bridge is? If the Morouns did that would they be accountable to the State as well as the State has been held accountable to the citizens?
Tue, 06/19/2012 - 9:27am
The lion's share of Snyder's positions on governing the state usually infuriates me. Snyder did pursue the correct path in negotiating for the new bridge. Its construction is a winner all the way around. It was quite revealing that the best legislature money can buy balked at the notion of a new bridge ,having accepted large checks from the owner of the Ambassador bridge. The House and Senate majorities are open to large contributions to their campaign coffers, with about $31 million spent on their behalf. The lawmakers have done nothing to create new jobs,but have managed to cause a lot of people to lose their jobs,especially in the public sector. It is time to vote them out of office.
Patricia Duffy
Tue, 06/19/2012 - 9:36am
I want to know which legislators accepted Moroun's money before I cast my vote in November. Legislators who place personal financial gain over Michigan's economic improvement are not getting my vote.
Tue, 06/19/2012 - 1:30pm
Thanks Phil, Another well written article. Two many in this issue are only thinking of their own pocketbooks. This bridge will not only be good for michign manufacturers bat all the midwest. The midwest was the manufacturing base of the US for many years and if we as a nation are going to compete in this world economy we must bring back that manufacturing. Good means of transporting products is a necessity. Thanks to Gov. Snyder for working very hard to do what is necessary to turn this state around.
Dennis M
Tue, 06/19/2012 - 1:34pm
The remarks in the article about an additional rail tunnel are important. With the very possible lower water levels in the Great Lakes, more ships may be required to offload further east. Creating another pathway for those goods to reach the heartland seems pretty important. for the whole nation, not just Michigan.
Tue, 06/19/2012 - 3:18pm
Moroun cannot compete with a government owned bridge. Canada has forecast diverting 75 % of Ambassador Bridge traffic to NITC, diverting all trucks from Canada to the United States to the NITC. Canada will put the Ambassador Bridge out of business. Canada had 80 years to build a freeway, on Ontario route 3, with service drives, from the 401 to the Ambassador Bridge, but did not. Canada let the Windsor neighborhoods build up, and then let the neighborhoods complain about the bridge traffic. Now, to be consistent, all international crossings should be publicly owned. The Port Huron and Detroit River rail tunnels should be publicly owned.