Michigan governor Snyder in constitutional confrontation over legislative bar on new toll bridge money
2012-06-27: The bizarre and endless saga of a new Detroit Windsor toll bridge has taken another weird twist. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder having just 12 days ago (June 15) triumphantly unveiled a signed agreement with the Canadian national government under which they will build the bridge, and cover any losses, and declaring it won't cost Michigan taxpayers a dollar - the Canadians even pay for the I-75 interchange and the US inspection plaza - is now engaging bridge skeptics in the legislature in an apparently unnecessary confrontation.
He has vetoed legislation containing a bar on spending any state money on a new bridge - money he says he doesn't need!
They apparently don't call him 'Governor Nerd' for nothing.
Don't put it down to partisan politics. This is a Republican Governor scrapping with a Republican controlled lower house and Republican appropriators!
Getting the Canads to pay a triumph
Getting an agreement to have the Canadians foot all the bills and accept liability seemed to us something of a political triumph for Gov Snyder - an end run around the legislature's opposition, undercutting the critics' main objection to the bridge, and making irrelevant the popular ballot measure requiring a popular vote for any bridge initiative by the state of Michigan.
Now however Governor Snyder has written a formal veto letter to the legislature calling no-bridge-spending provisions of law "unenforceable" and vetoing them.
One is in the FY2013 Treasury budget and says: "No monies (of the Michigan Strategic Fund) shall be used to support any staff, effort, projects, consultant expenses, or any other activity related to the development, financing, construction, operation, or implementation of the Detroit River International Crossing or any successor project unless the project is approved by the legislature and signed into law."
The Governor had swung the Michigan Strategic Fund in as representing the state in the agreement with the Canadians.
In addition the Michigan DOT budget yet again contained wording that neither Snyder previously nor previous governors had questioned for constitutionality:
"The department shall not expend any state transportation revenue for construction planning or construction of the Detroit River International Crossing (the new bridge) or a renamed successor… The department shall not commit the state to any new contract related to the construction planning or construction of the Detroit River International Crossing or a renamed successor unless the legislature has enacted specific enabling legislation to allow for the construction of the Detroit River International Crossing or a renamed successor, and the department has completed the Gateway project."
The chairman of the house transport appropriations subcommittee Rep Dave Agema (Repub) says bluntly no governor can "spend money without the authorization of the Legislature," adding: "The governor doesn't have the power to just spend money how he sees fit."
Ambassador Bridge company lobbyist Mickey Blashfield says the Governor is trying to set himself up as "the judge, jury and executioner for all things bridge."
The governor seems to have made a huge political and legal blunder.
How can you say:
- no Michigan taxpayer money is needed because the Canadians are funding it all
- then explain a confrontation with the legislature insisting he can spend Michigan state money
We talked this week to Robert Sedler, a professor of law at Wayne State University who had made a case in an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press that the Governor's agreement with Canada is unconstitutional. Sedler has been a consultant to the Ambassador Bridge company's lawyers but says he speaks his own mind. He tells us that there is no way the new bridge can get built as the Crossing Agreement of Snyder and the Canadians proposes without some legislation, either state or federal.
"Regardless of how it is funded, the state can't avoid all responsibility in something as complex as a new bridge. It has to write rules and regulations and take some responsibility. But once you have regulations they must be based in some authorizing legislation," he says.
The bridge traffic and the bridge and its plaza on US/Michigan territory involves legal liability and regulation that can't be delegated to a Canadian bridge entity without legislation allowing that.
Any regulation whether by the Canadian bridge authority or Michigan agencies requires authorizing legislation or it will be challenged successfully in the courts, Sedler says.
The Ambassador Bridge itself was authorized by an act of the US Congress and by a popular vote of the people of Michigan.
COMMENT: The Governor seems to be proposing the impossible for the new bridge - that a Canadian government entity be allowed to come in and build the bridge and its approaches and connections in the US without either federal or state authorizing legislation of any kind, and without a popular vote.
And now the Governor seems to throw away his credibility by picking a fight with the legislature saying he shouldn't spend money on the new bridge that he says doesn't need to be spent.
We've changed our mind: this Gov Snyder is so wild, he's losing it.
And giving nerds a bad name.
on the Snyder-Canada agreement
on the Canadian 'ownership' of the project:
Prof Sedler on the unconstitutional "crossing agreement" with Canada: