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Jan 27 2011

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Is DRIC Good for Michigan?

I posed some question that need to be answered before this huge undertaking and project of Gov. Snyder should even begin to take place. It’s your tax dollar and your state! You need to know all the details!

As always please contact your Representatives to provide answers and to make your voice heard. Remember, they work for us (Be polite:)

MI Senator Contact Information HERE
MI House Reps Contact Information HERE

I interviewed State Rep. Paul Opsommer who is the chair of the House Transportation Committee, on the DRIC bridge bill from last year, HERE and I
recently had the opportunity for a follow-up interview after the Governor openly supported the DRIC Bridge during his recent State of the State.

JF: Rep. Opsommer, thank you as always for your time and for agreeing to talk
with me again. Making sure we keep the sovereignty of our infrastructure was
an important issue for tea party groups last year, and the Governor supporting
the DRIC Bridge seems to have caught everyone by surprise. Were you part of
any discussions on a new proposal?

PO: I have been able to meet with the administration since the State of the
State, but I had talked with their legislative person several times before then
and they had said no decisions had been made. So it did end up being a surprise
to a lot of people. At this point the Governor does not have a bill introduced
yet, just a vision to get it done.

JF: Now that the cat is out of the bag what are your impressions? Is this
going to be a re-run of the bill from last year?

PO: In most ways it is too early to tell since the Governor’s bill is still
being drafted. The Democrats are introducing their version of the bill this
year, (HB 4131 HERE which if it is the same bill they passed out of the
House last year [HB 4961 ]HERE from last session] I will adamantly oppose it.
If the goal is to facilitate trade there are lots of ways to skin that cat.

SIDEBAR: ( Both former and current Democrat bills contain at least this same provision: (e) “Instrumentality of government” means a public entity
or empowered to carry out functions commonly carried out by
of government, public agencies, or public authorities.

In other words both the former and current Democrat bills seek to create a new government entity with it’s own powers)

Right now the Governor is talking in broad terms, such as the needs to support
trade. We can also support trade by allowing for the Ambassador Bridge to be
twin-spanned, or even some other option that is getting lost in the shuffle.

JF: Why then is the focus always on DRIC?

PO: Well, Canada has tried to take some of the other options off the table,
and DRIC is their preferred way to go forward. Under the Granholm
administration she seemed to be content with that, whereas I viewed it as being
bullied to a certain degree. Many people, including the major media outlets
just focus on the concept of wanting another bridge for trade and they pay no
attention to what else is in the bill. That is what we had last year when HB
4961 ended up being about a power grab for MDOT. The word DRIC wasn’t even in
the bill. So you had all these groups pushing for HB 4961 because they wanted
the DRIC yet DRIC wasn’t even mentioned in the bill.

JF: Are you OK then if the new bridge is a twin span of the Ambassador Bridge
instead?

PO: I’d like to see more details there as well, but of course I am certainly
very open to another bridge being built that doesn’t cost us any money. I
realize that is not where Canada wants to go, but there needs to be some give
and take there. I tried to meet with Canada several times last year and I
couldn’t get them to meet. Then the next day I would find out that [Canadian
Transportation Minister]Baird was in town meeting with other people but had
decided it wasn’t worth his time to meet with the minority republicans. It was
very frustrating, the Republicans in the House were completely ignored in the
process once we started asking hard questions.

JF: Did you think Canada would have been less rigid if they had met with you?

PO: I don’t know about that, but I needed more of an explanation as to why
they were so dead set against the location of the twin span. As we negotiated
with them I felt it was important that they understand how hypocritical they
were coming across with them taking some locations completely off the table and
yet labeling Michigan as the obstructionist in the process. But the main thing
I was looking for at the time was something concrete about the supposed $550
million dollar gift, wanting to know more about it so that I knew it was just
not smoke and mirrors. Those questions never really got answered.

JF: So you don’t think the offer is real?

PO: I don’t think Canada knows itself if the offer will ultimately be real,
but I do know 100% now it is not a gift. It has to be paid back. We had so
much political theater with that last year, with Governor Granholm coming in
all out of breath with the fax from Canada in her hand, hot of the press. It
came across so staged that it was hard not to be immediately suspicious of it.
I still believe that we will see some Canadian private partner at the end of
the day that will financially benefit from the DRIC, whether it is one of their
pension funds or public benefit corporations as an operator or major investor.

If that is the case, and the Canadian government can benefit from the profits
of the bridge for the next century or more, then a $550 million loan up front
would still be small potatoes and in their best interests. They view the loan
then as an inducement for us and as icing on the cake so to speak, and now they
want to try to put icing on top of the icing. For example, some are now saying
we can use the $550 million to match federal funds. But that is thus far just
a verbal commitment. I want to be able to see that in writing from the feds.
So far I have not been able to get that from MDOT.

And on top of that there are other ways we can address a shortfall in federal
match dollars, so while I view that as nice I’m not going to let that drive the
discussion. Michigan always has gotten less road dollars in comparison to other
states, so in many ways this match money issue is something they should be
giving us anyways.

At the end of the day this is a money issue, and this is a taxpayer protection
issue, but it is not a budget issue for this cycle, so I don’t see a need to
get this all addressed by May 31st like some would want. My main goal is
making sure that if toll revenue is not as high as anticipated that we don’t
have to pay for that with taxpayer dollars. And if toll revenue is not high
enough and it goes bankrupt, I want to make sure some foreign bank or pension
fund doesn’t end up as the owner of a Michigan bridge.

JF: There seems to be a lot of pressure to move this quickly based on what I
am reading in the mainstream media. Do you see this moving quickly?

PO: I won’t know until I see the bills, and so far all I have seen is the
Democrat version. I haven’t seen what the Governor wants passed, and it could
end up being a very good bill that ensures taxpayers can’t be on the hook for
this, doesn’t impede on our sovereignty, and isn’t a government subsidized
attempt to run a private business out of business. We will then have to look
at it in context with other trade issues and options.

If we can facilitate trade with Canada through a twin span or other options we
can take a look at DRIC and all of those things but we have to be able to get
away from just tunnel vision on DRIC. Until the Governor’s bill is introduced
we will just have to wait and see.

Who will set toll rates? Where will the profits go, both now and in the
future, and will government subsidize them? Will Michigan always retain sole
ownership and control over the part of the bridge on our side? What happens if the bridge goes into receivership? Hopefully those kinds of specifics will be
very detailed in the bill, whereas last time they were all left up to MDOT to
decide without legislative oversight.

JF: Thank you Rep Opsommer, it’s always a pleasure to speak with you and I
will be checking back with you for updates on this very important issue to
Michigan taxpayers.

PO: Thank you.

Permanent link to this article: http://grassrootsmichigan.com/?p=183

3 comments

  1. BARRY DAMON

    I just joined the TEA PARTY, and as one of my first official acts, I wish to go on record as being TOTALy AGAINST the DRIC bridge!!! If Canada wants it, let Canada PAY FOR IT!!! I DO NOT WANT TO SEE ANY OF MY TAX DOLLARS BEING WASTED TO BENEFIT ANOTHER COUNTRY! I’M AN AMERICAN, FOR AMERICA.

  2. hazel

    Have you ever considered that the Canadians would like to relieve some of the heavy traffic (Semi trucks) from entering and traveling along what is essentially a small town (East Windsor) retail shopping area, that stretches along for about 5 miles? That it can no longer support all the congestion? and a major portion of traffic comes back and forth from the US.? are we so selfish that we can’t compromise and help them out with their vision too? A new free bridge in its present location will absolutely not address this issue. Get out a map, take a physical trip over to Canada (try around rush hour) and drive out Huron Street till it meets up with the 101. Check it out. Please support Gov. Snyder. thank you. Hazel Brighton, mi

    1. Joan

      Hazel,
      As a Michigander my first priority is what is best for the citizens of Michigan. Using Michigan taxpayer dollars and other unanswered questions surrounding DRIC (see blog post “Is DRIC Good for Michigan?” http://grassrootsmichigan.com/?p=183) is a substantial enough concern to NOT rush into any building project especially since there is a private contractor who is willing to build a bridge.

      Also see “Who Should Run A 2nd Detroit-Windsor Bridge?” link on the side bar of the front page

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