Michigan voters oppose new government-sponsored Detroit-Windsor bridge, Gov "going it alone"?

November 22, 2011

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and bridge cheerleaders in the local press often report that opposition to a new government sponsored toll bridge between Detroit and Windsor Canada lies with a diehard minority of state legislators 'bought' by their local villain Manuel 'Matty' Moroun, 84-year old head of the family that owns the rival Ambassador Bridge. However an opinion survey suggests - to the contrary - that opponents in the state legislature of the new bridge (known by acronyms DRIC and NITC) are very much in tune with public skepticism about the multi-billion dollar signature span.

An EPIC-MRA survey for the Detroit Free Press newspaper - a vocal supporter of the DRIC bridge - and the ABC affiliate WXYZ-TV shows only 30% of a sample of Michigan voters support the new governments bridge to 59% opposing it.

"Strong" support for the Canadian-Michigan governments DRIC bridge is 19% to 47% who say they "strongly oppose."

And opposition is about equal among the different partisan groups. Clear majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents are all opposed.

This despite a surveyors question whose wording is far too favorable to the case for the governments' bridge. A fact-based question might have produced even more public opposition.

Those surveyed were told: "Michigan's share of the project would be paid for by the Canadian government; an amount that would trigger the necessary matching funds from the federal government to complete the project. A private company would operate the structure and assume the financial risk for operational losses."

In fact the Canadians have made clear they expect to fully recoup their loan to the state of Michigan from tolls. Also the Canadian contribution would not "trigger" a single cent of matching funds from the federal government to complete the bridge.  The federal government has pledged nothing at all toward the DRIC bridge and it is even not committed to providing the necessary border clearance (customs, immigration, homeland security) services.

Further a private company's willingness to bear operational costs is completely beside the point since those costs are relatively small. The real question is whether investors will bear the huge capital costs and judge prospective tolls capable of supporting debt service on the DRIC.

Governor "going it alone"?

With the state legislature unwilling to pass enabling legislation promoted by the governor the media in Detroit and Windsor have been reporting that, to quote a Detroit Free Press headline today "Gov. Snyder may go it alone on new public bridge to Canada."

The text of the Detroit Free Press report is more balanced than that headline, quoting opinions both ways on whether that's legally possible.

Governor Snyder has made no claim, at least not publicly, that he can "go it alone" with the two-governments' DRIC bridge over opposition from the state legislature.

Any such move by Snyder would make nonsense of his protracted efforts to gain legislative approval.

A skeptic on the DRIC bridge, state house speaker Jase Bolger is quoted by the Detroit Free Press: "I don't expect the governor to give up on the bridge."

Speaker Bolger said he didn't know what the Governor would try to do without legislative approval, but added: "I'll tell you what he can't do... He cannot obligate taxpayers."

Public opinion not necessarily right

Public opposition as shown in an opinion poll is not of course a decisive argument against the new governments-sponsored bridge. But it does suggest the need for skepticism about the endlessly repeated pro-DRIC bridge narrative in the Detroit-Windsor media that legislators only oppose the governments-sponsored bridge because they're "bought by Moroun."

Legislators may be hearing the skepticism out in their electorates that is documented by the EPIC-MRA opinion survey.

Senator Kowall

Mike Kowall is the chairman of the Michigan state Senate committee that recently voted 3 to 2 against the new bridge, and caused leaders of both houses to say they were shelving the project.

Local media cheerleaders for the new bridge didn't even ask Kowall for comment on why he'd been against the state sponsoring the new bridge.

They just wrote him up with almost marxist dogmatism as "bought by Matty."

We asked him.

The senator dismisses the simplistic "bought by Matty"  line with some interesting points. Of course you don't have to believe him, but he is prepared to discuss his reasons for being "agin the DRIC" in detail which can be summarized:

(1) Moroun, Kowall points out, is just one of very many donors who have helped him in his campaign and none have "bought" him, and his reasons for opposing the bridge are quite independent of Moroun's interests

(2) he has thoroughly investigated the cause of delays at the borders, and it isn't lack of bridge capacity, but long delays at US customs and immigration, so an extra bridge wouldn't help, and isn't needed

(3) an unneeded bridge may not in the end be financeable but if it were somehow financed it would produce serious financial losses, not just for the Ambassador Bridge, but all around, and not least for the already troubled Blue Water Bridge in which the state has a half share

(4) the new DRIC bridge has not been approved by the Feds as a 'Port of Entry' and it is unlikely to be approved since the Feds' budget for border control is already heavily stretched

(5) building a grand new bridge is an attractive idea, but the need and the viability of the new bridge have not been demonstrated.

DRIC supporters, it seems to us, may have made a serious political error in their stress on how much the Canadians will pay. Michigan voters may not be impressed by the argument that they should support a bridge just because the Canadians will pay Michigan's costs, or think that Michigan should be taking loans from the Canadians.

detail on the opinion survey p13:


TOLLROADSnews 2011-11-21

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