Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

DRIC And The Root Of All Evil

Of course money bastardizes the political system. No, no, no, I’m not talking about bribes and payoffs. That's too easy. I’ll leave that for others to talk about.

Rather what I want to discuss in this BLOG is how money seems to cause people to act in very strange and mysterious ways, especially when gigantic sums of money are at stake, billions of dollars. In ways that thoughtful representatives concerned for the well-being of taxpayers ought never to act or even consider. You will see how actions are taken that could result in taxpayers being prejudiced financially for generations to come. For what reason, for what purpose?

This whole episode involving the introduction of of Michigan’s P3 legislation and whether a DRIC bridge should be built will be the example that I want to use.

Can any of us comprehend realistically what $5.3B means or is it merely a number on paper? Do Legislators get jaded after awhile and forget that taxpayers have to pay for these tremendous ego/legacy projects that carry someone's name for eternity?

We have seen rah rah rah pep rallies, demonization and vilification, a breathless Governor, a proposed $550 million payment from a foreign Government to Michigan and who knows what else by the time that this matter is finished one way or another. No one seems shocked by any of this, as if it is an expected part of the process.

Let’s have some fun and do a bit of speculating and see where it takes us.

The Baird letter was a showstopper. It took the Governor's breath away at least. There is no doubt that it is been hanging around for some time since work on this started about eight or nine months ago according to media reports. If you will recall L. Brooks at the rally for DRIC mentioned that he would be taking around a letter to Legislators, presumably Republicans and probably Senators, that hopefully from his perspective would get them to change their opposition to the DRIC bridge.

That letter, if it was same one, never saw the light of day publicly until the breathless Michigan Governor introduced it at a Michigan House hearing on the P3 Bill which quickly seemed to turn into a popularity contest for DRIC.

That there were last minutes talks between officials on both sides of the border was revealed. But what could they have been talking about? My guess---that the House was NOT going to pass the P3 Bill if House members looked at it closely since it removed legislative oversight from the process.

To put it bluntly, the Bill sucked. The House Republicans were making rumblings about that. Billions of dollars of transportation projects could be introduced by a Lame-Duck MDOT Director and approved by a Michigan Transportation Commission that was appointed by a Lame-Duck Governor that could bind Governors who were not elected yet for up to 50 years or more.

If the Bill died, then DRIC was dead for years since several of the Governor-candidates favoured the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project. What was needed therefore was a big gesture.

Minister Baird provided it with his 2-page letter! Not money though because an agreement was subject to negotiations. It was also tied into passing legislation. In came Jennifer saying that UP TO $550M was offered.

The gambit worked. The House Committee approved the Bill and all was right with the world. Except that the House has NOT voted on the Bill for weeks and we are coming up to June 1, the D-day for approving DRIC or not.

Panicsville again. Legislators called in to the Governor's office, arm-twisiting and still no clear majority so no vote.

Again, Minister Baird to the rescue supposedly and as the papers said, conversations with Legislators after his big Detroit speech. To be frank, that speech was a dud, boring, nothing new. How could there be since he had given away the cash. It was I am certain to have been the step that was to convince the Senators to go forward. It was supposed to be brought in I would bet at the SENATE hearings not for the Michigan HOUSE. However, that arrow had been removed from the quiver because the Governor could NOT get a House vote.

So what do you do now if it looks like the P3 Bill will die? Baird's speech probably made it worse. As did the Steudle interview that effectively told Legislators that it does not matter what they say, Canada will get what it wants. The solution---simple, re-write it! Try desperately to find a way to keep the guts of the Bill but pretend to address the concerns of Legislators.

Now here is the good trick as we in Windsor have seen with our local Government. Make sure that the new Bill is introduced in the last possible second, pressure members of your party, the Democrats who have the majority in the House, and then call a quick vote.

Here is where the bastardization comes in. What this is doing is destroying the system, and destroying it on something not inconsequential--- multi-billions in transportation projects.

What happened to Legislators having time to think, to deliberate, to consider, to make changes if needed? What happened to the Committee system that is normally charged with holding hearings before a major piece of legislation is passed?

Nope, not this time around. The Bill is too important for Canada who wants it and will get it regardless, no matter what Michigan Legislators think, according to an interview by the MDOT Director.

Just pass the damn Bill and then the House members can go off and do what they have to do to get re-elected.

How are you going to deal with the Senate with the Republican majority? The Senate just pased a Bill that says the following about DRIC, effectively killing it:
  • "Sec. 384. On or before March 1, 2011, the department shall report to the state budget director, the house and senate appropriations subcommittees on transportation, and the house and senate fiscal agencies on department activities related to the Detroit River International Crossing. The department shall not make any expenditure, commit to an expenditure, or bind the state to an expenditure, related to the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) unless the legislature has enacted specific enabling legislation to allow for the construction of DRIC.

That demonstrates pretty clearly what the Senators think of the Baird pressure tactic and his money!

Actually, the Senate action gives me encouragement that perhaps all is not rotten in politics. Tying together P3 and DRIC was a huge blunder for which the Governor is paying dearly. Maybe that is why she is so breathless.

The Senate action if the House approves it means that DRIC actually has to be addressed and not snuck in because a Lame-Duck MDOT Director wants it. A $30-40m DRIC cost already for consultants....Isn't that sum about half of the amount that Michigan is short to maximize its federal matching grants next year ($84 mil)?

Talk about panic...It was a last minute substitute that passed the House Committee and now it is so faulty it probably cannot pass the full House and probably will be re-written.

I really like it when the best laid bureaucratic plans go awry. Poor MDOT thought it was very clever backing elected leaders into a corner with the June 1 deadline approaching, but it is MDOT which is too clever (by half!). If the legislature retains on-going oversight of legitimate P-3 legislation, then the MDOT' power grab has failed! If they actually take the time to read, improve and deliberate the bill, and hopefully kill any P3 Bill, then MDOT is sunk!