1/29/2014

The Globe and Mail: Bridge going nowhere: Detroit-Windsor crossing lost in a broken political process

January  29,  2014

Bridge  going  nowhere:  Detroit-­Windsor  crossing  lost  in  a  broken political  process
By  JEFF  WATTRICK

Crucial  infrastructure  stuck  in  limbo  which  has  little  to  do  with  small  government  rhetoric  and everything  to  do  with  protecting  the  interests  of  a  powerful  few
No  less  an  economic  theorist  than  Adam  Smith  believed  government  could  do  few  things  more  important  than building  roads. A  robust  transportation  infrastructure  "account  the  greatest  of  all  improvements,"  Smith  wrote  in  the  Wealth  of Nations.  "They  encourage  the  cultivation  of  the  remote...They  are  advantageous  to  the  town,  by  breaking  down  the monopoly  of  the  country  in  its  neighbourhood.  They  are  advantageous  even  to  that  part  of  the  country.  Though they  introduce  some  rival  commodities  into  the  old  market,  they  open  many  new  markets  to  its  produce." From  the  Erie  Canal  to  the  Transcontinental  Railroad  to  the  United  States'  Interstate  Highway  System,  history  has proven  Smith's  theory  about  transportation  correct. It  is,  therefore,  perplexing  that  the  plan  to  build  a  new  bridge  between  Detroit  and  Windsor  remains  politically contentious.  Or,  I  should  say,  remains  politically  contentious  on  the  U.S.  side  of  the  border.  Canada  understands perfectly  the  bridge's  necessity. Ironic  that  so  many  Americans  scoff  at  our  northern  neighbours  supposed  socialism  (single-­payer  health  care  and all  that)  but  yet  we  free-­marketeer  Yanks  are  ignoring  the  time-­tested  advice  of  capitalism's  founder. The  latest  hiccup  for  the  new  Detroit-­Windsor  bridge  is  when  or  if  the  U.S.  government  will  allocate  funds  to  build the  crossing's  Customs'  plaza.  Michigan  Governor  Rick  Snyder  claims  the  Obama  Administration  is  dragging  its heels. On  its  surface,  Snyder's  claim  that  "the  U.S.  government  has  largely  taken  a  position  that  they  don't  think  they should  pay  anything  for  a  facility  for  the  United  States  government"  is  a  little  disingenuous. Obama  has  made  infrastructure  improvements  a  cornerstone  of  his  agenda.  His  2009  stimulus  package  including millions  for  road  improvements  and  upgrading  passenger  rail  infrastructure. And  let's  not  forget  that  Michigan's  own  refusal  to  pay  for  its  portion  of  the  bridge  led  a  frustrated  Canada  to  throw up  its  collective  hands  and  just  front  us  the  money  for  Michigan's  share  of  the  bridge. Even  then,  neither  Snyder  nor  his  predecessor  Jennifer  Granholm  could  get  state  lawmakers  to  sign  off  on  the project.  Snyder  eventually  had  to  resort  to  some  Constitutional  sleight  of  hand  to  unilaterally  approve  the  bridge.
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1/29/2014

The Globe and Mail: Bridge going nowhere: Detroit-Windsor crossing lost in a broken political process

As  the  Customs'  plaza  goes,  it's  entirely  possible  the  only  thing  holding  up  this  aspect  of  the  bridge  is  normal legislative  scheduling.  The  U.S.  federal  budget  process  begins  in  earnest  in  about  a  month,  and  while  the  Obama Administration  has  been  mum  about  the  dust-­up,  they've  never  expressed  anything  but  support  for  the  bridge. Snyder's  comments  may  be  nothing  more  than  a  warning  shot  across  Washington's  bow,  a  prudent  reminder  that the  bridge  can't  be  allowed  to  slip  through  the  legislative  cracks  in  2014. It's  also  possible  that  Snyder  used  to  issue  to  take  a  free  shot  at  Obama  and  shore  up  his  right  flank  in  advance  of Michigan's  gubernatorial  election. Snyder  is  unlikely  to  face  a  primary  challenge  as  he  seeks  re-­election.  However,  Lt.  Governor  Brian  Calley's  spot on  the  ticket  is  expected  to  be  challenged  at  this  summer's  Michigan  Republican  convention.  The  seriousness  of that  challenge  is  unknown,  but  no  Republican  has  ever  lost  points  with  the  GOP  base  for  blaming  something  on Obama.  Why  not,  if  you're  Snyder,  use  the  bridge  as  a  kind  of  wedge  issue  to  show  your  administration  is thoroughly  anti-­Obama? Unfortunately,  it's  also  impossible  to  dismiss  Snyder's  concern  has  simple  political  posturing  because  nothing  about the  bridge  project  has  been  simple. Ambassador  Bridge  owner  Matty  Moroun,  desperate  to  keep  his  Detroit-­Windsor  bridge  monopoly  by  any  means necessary,  has  seen  to  that. Moroun's  political  activity  largely  focuses  on  politicians  to  the  right  of  Rick  Snyder  and  includes  buckets  of  money  of anti-­Obama  groups  like  Americans  for  Prosperity.  While  Moroun  is  pragmatic  enough  to  play  both  sides  against  the middle,  it  seems  unlikely  that  Obama  is  taking  a  dive  for  the  Ambassador  Bridge  owner. However,  Moroun  doesn't  necessarily  need  overt  collusion  from  the  President.  He  didn't  grow  the  family  business from  a  couple  of  gas  stations  and  few  trucks  into  a  multi-­billion  dollar  commercial  empire  without  playing  the angles. There  is  much  truth  in  Snyder's  assertion  that  the  U.S.  government  (or  any  governmental  unit  in  the  U.S.,  really) doesn't  like  paying  for  itself.  That's  largely  thanks  to  people  like  Matty  Moroun,  who  fund  a  political  movement  bent on  making  government  so  small  that  you  could  "drown  it  in  a  bathtub." The  result  is  a  political  reality  where  an  obviously  appropriate  public  project,  like  building  another  road  at  the busiest  commercial  crossing  with  the  United  States'  most  important  trading  partner,  is  held  hostage  by  a manufactured  scarcity  of  resources  that  potentially  pits  funding  the  bridge's  Customs  plaza  against  equally  valid projects  in  other  parts  of  the  country. "Golly,  we  just  can't  afford  it,"  say  politicians  who  just  happen  to  receive  campaign  contributions  from  men  like Matty  Moroun,  who  profit  when  the  government  "just  can't  afford"  to  undertake  the  basic  functions  of  government. Belief  in  a  smaller,  rather  than  expansive,  government  is  a  perfectly  valid  philosophy.  Unfortunately,  as  the  limbo  in which  the  Detroit-­Windsor  bridge  seems  stuck  demonstrates,  so  much  of  the  small  government  rhetoric  (at  least  on the  U.S.  side  of  the  border)  has  little  to  do  with  philosophy  and  everything  to  do  with  protecting  the  interest  of  a powerful  few. Rick  Snyder  is  correct.  The  new  bridge  is  too  important  to  too  many  people  on  both  sides  of  the  border.  It  can't  be allowed  to  get  lost  to  a  broken  political  process. Jeff  Wattrick  writes  and  blogs  for  Deadline  Detroit1.  He  is  on  Twitter  at@Woodwardsfriend2.

References
1.   www.deadlinedetroit.com/columnist/wattrick 2.   https://twitter.com/woodwardsfriend

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1/29/2014

The Globe and Mail: Bridge going nowhere: Detroit-Windsor crossing lost in a broken political process

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