Sep 19, 2008

Senate Republicans willing to shut down state government of behalf of rich contributor

Senate Republicans are so intent on carrying water for Grosse Pointe billionaire, Republican benefactor and Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun in his quest to keep his monopoly that they are willing to sacrifice jobs, millions of tax dollars and a partial government shutdown to do so.

Senate Republicans are holding up the 2008-09 Department of Transportation budget because they want language in the bill that does not bind the state to enacting the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study's final recommendation, despite assurances that the new recommended crossing in the Del Ray section of Detroit cannot go forward without legislative approval.

Currently, the aging, privately owned Ambassador Bridge is the busiest commercial border crossing in all of North America, handling 20 percent more trucks than its closest competitor and almost double the commercial traffic of the next busiest crossing on the Canadian border. In all, almost 30 percent of all U.S./Canada trade and over 25 percent of the truck traffic between the U.S. and Canada passes through the Detroit-Windsor gateway. This U.S.-Canadian trade directly supports 7.1 million U.S. jobs, 221,500 Michigan jobs, and one in three Canadian jobs. More than $1 billon in trade crosses the bridge everyday.

A study conducted in partnership with the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), Transport Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation identified the Del Ray on the U.S. side and the Canadian crossing is the Brighton Beach section in west-end Windsor as the best places to build a new crossing.

But the Ambassador Bridge Company that operates the Ambassador has already began the process of twining the current bridge or building a span right next to the current one. The Canadians have made it clear they don't want an international crossing in private hands, one of the few in the nation, and the location dumps the massive truck traffic into already congested downtown Windsor and it must go through 17 traffic lights to reach the interstate.

Despite this, Canadian officials are giving the bridge company's request for a permit consideration, but the company has not even submitted the proper paperwork.

The blocking action on behalf of Moroun is being led by Senate Majority Floor Leader Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt. He has tried in the past unsuccesfully to kill the DRIC study.

According to a press release by the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA), the shutdown will cost taxpayers an estimated $3.175 million, and it will include decommissioning road construction zones and the layoff of as many as 2,750 state transportation department employees. The $3.175 million cost includes $635,000 in state money spent to implement shutdown procedures and another $2.54 million in lost federal match.

Republicans, including the unofficial blog of the Michigan Republican Party, favor the shutdown and the twining of the bridge, calling it a "bridge to nowhere." Like GOP VP candidate Spiro Palin, that talking point is just as false. The real bridge to nowhere is the twin Ambassador Bridge because it will stop in the middle of the Detroit River because it cannot land on Canadian soil.

The argument also goes that a private bridge is better than a government owned one, and taxpayers would foot the bill for a new bridge when a private individual will build it for free. That ignores the fact that the most important trade barrier in the U.S. has almost no oversight, both for structural integrity and security. It also ignores the fact that the people who use the bridge pay for it from the tolls they pay to use it.

I have also heard the claim that traffic across the bridge is down, so they do not even need another span. Not true. Traffic has steadily increased. It may cycle up and down, but the trend is continually upward. If that were really the case, then why is the Ambassador Bridge Company trying to build a second span?

The Senate Republicans appear to be standing alone on this one, and perhaps they will walk the plank that will become the twin span into the Detroit River when this blows up in their face. The initial location of the new bridge has widespread support, including the Bush Administration, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, Automation Alley, the Big 3 automakers, the United Auto Workers, the Michigan Manufacturing Association, the Automotive Alliance and even some prominent Republicans like Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

We know the Republicans will do anything to make look Democrats look bad no matter who it hurts. Just look at the last time they shut government down last year just to make Democrats look bad.

However, it looks likely the Conference Committee will reach agreement before the Oct. 1 deadline to avoid a shutdown.

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