By bridgemi/Bridge staff
Who: The People Should Decide, Taxpayers Against Monopolies
What: TV/Internet ads
Truth Squad call: Foul on PSD ad; No foul on TAM ad
Proposal 6 would require all new international bridges and tunnels built in the state to be pre-approved by voters statewide and in the individual municipalities where they would be erected. It also redefines “new” as those not operational on Jan. 1, 2012. “The People Should Decide,” the pro-Prop 6 campaign, has been almost entirely financed by the Detroit International Bridge Co. of Manuel “Matty” Moroun and his family, which wholly owns the 82-year-old Ambassador Bridge over the Detroit River. The proposal is aimed at stopping the construction of the New International Trade Crossing, a bridge that will compete with the Ambassador for freight and passenger traffic.
The opposition to Proposal 6 comes from Taxpayers Against Monopolies.
As of Oct. 26, PSD had raised nearly $40 million in cash and in-kind contributions; TAM had raised just under $1 million.
People Should Decide ad
Questionable statement: “Tired of the politicians’ negative attacks on Proposal 6? It’s time for the facts. Proposal 6 requires a vote before the government can build their bridge. Voting yes means the bridge can’t be built without your approval. Voting no means politicians can spend billions on their bridge without giving you a chance to vote on it. Yes means we have the power. No means we give it away to the politicians.”
The “Katie” of this spot’s title is an unnamed woman who lays out “the facts” in a monologue. Without mentioning either the Ambassador Bridge or the NITC, she breaks it down as an either-or proposition: Vote yes, and the collective “you” can decide on “the bridge.” Voting no leads to billions in spending.
As MTS has pointed out many times, the deal for the NITC is clear: Construction costs will be borne by the Canadian government, not the U.S. The deal, known as the Crossing Agreement, is clear on this. As the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan stated in its analysis of the proposal:
“Pursuant to the Crossing Agreement, the Canadian government will create a Crossing Authority which will be administratively and financially responsible for the NITC bridge, including design, construction, financing, operation, and maintenance. Under the Crossing Agreement, Canada will own the NITC bridge and the Crossing Authority will pay for all connections to highways and interchanges on the Michigan side of the bridge. Costs Michigan might otherwise be expected to pay will be covered by the $550 million Canadian contribution. According to the Agreement, Michigan state government is not responsible for any costs of the new bridge or related projects.”
Foul or no foul: Foul. “Billions on the bridge” – Moroun and his minions can repeat that line all they want, but it doesn’t change the provisions of the deal with Canada on financing. Michigan isn’t spending billions on the bridge, though Moroun has spent millions to try to hoodwink the voters.
Taxpayers Against Monopolies ad
In the second ad, a singing cartoon of Moroun warbles to a Woody Guthrie tune, and a voiceover makes a case against it Proposal 6.
Questionable statement: “Matty Moroun wants to change our constitution so that he can keep the $100 million he makes on his bridge monopoly each year. His proposal could stop every bridge project in Michigan, potentially killing over 25,000 jobs.”
Supporters of the new bridge – who oppose Proposal 6 – told Bridge last month that if the proposal passes, “people would realize very quickly that the unintended consequences are way more than they bargained for.” The speaker was Brad Williams, vice president for government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, and he points out troubling language in the proposal. Provision (d) in the formal proposal language states:
“‘New international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles’ shall mean any bridge or tunnel which is not open to the public and serving traffic as of January 1, 2012.”
By leaving out a second “international,” they claim, this new definition would require a statewide and local vote on any bridge or tunnel constructed in the future. It seems far-fetched, and perhaps it is, but laws are written in precise language for exactly this reason. And the ad’s claim uses the word “could,” which makes it a possibility rather than a certainty.
The 25,000 jobs claim is based on the proposal for the new bridge, which estimated that figure based on Federal Highway Administration data on the economic impact of infrastructure projects based on money spent.
As for the $100 million bridge monopoly? Those figures are hard to pin down, as the Detroit International Bridge Co. is a privately held company and doesn’t report financial data. However, some estimates are possible. In a 2011 interview, Matthew Moroun, son of Matty, said “our total revenue is in the $60 million range.” An August MTS post mined a Presidential Permit application for the new bridge and turned up a figure of $67.4 million in 2008. A back-of-the-envelope calculation based on average tolls and traffic reported by the Public Border Operators Association turned up a figure of a little over $61 million for 2011. But news media like Forbes have been reporting the $100 million figure for a while.
A blogger for the Windsor Star in Canada rounds up various revenue streams for the Morouns – tolls, fuel for vehicles, duty-free items such as liquor – and finds anywhere from $80 million to approaching $200 million annually.
The strongest public data is that the Morouns make $60 million on tolls alone, and they make millions more on other items tied to ownership of the Ambassador.
Foul or no foul: No foul. Moroun’s DIBC does have the only truck-car bridge linking Detroit and Windsor. The ad’s use of “could” and “potentially” fits the uncertain nature of legal and economic development projections. And the $100 million figure is certainly within the range of revenue from all sources tied to the Ambassador Bridge.
The Center for Michigan (the parent company of Bridge Magazine and the Michigan Truth Squad) has been financially supported by a wide range of corporate and foundation supporters. We are grateful to all funders for helping us create and grow a new nonprofit journalism service for Michigan citizens. Those funders have absolutely no role in the editorial decisions of the Michigan Truth Squad or Bridge Magazine.