Message from MI Rep Opsommer re: HB 4961 corporate toll giveaway

Posted on May 27th, 2010 Admin

We should call this the Michigan Infrastructure Fire Sale Act (MIFS) or perhaps the Michigan Taxpayer Raping Act (M-TRAP).

Some background on this horrible piece of proposed legislation can be found here.

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Rep Opsommer sent this message earlier today:

No Vote Explanation for HB4961
What is No Vote Regarding: Passage
Date: 5/26/2010
Time: 7:02:28 PM

Rep. Opsommer, having reserved the right to explain his protest against the passage of the bill, made the following statement:

“Mr. Speaker and members of the House:

Legislative colleagues, simply put, this bill is about much more than just the DRIC. Much, much more. This is a vehicle bill that is attempting to use the DRIC as leverage for an unprecedented shift of power and authority from the legislative to the executive branch when it comes to the unilateral ability to be able to toll our citizens.

There is no reason it has to be this way.  We should be looking at the DRIC and PPP bills separately.  That is how we have done all the other toll bridges here in Michigan. But instead, it has been a conscious decision by MDOT to wrap the DRIC bridge up into broad public-private partnership legislation that would not only allow for the DRIC but would cause the Legislature to give up its authority to statutorily authorize tolling anywhere else in the state. I don’t know if this is because the governor wants to use the bill as leverage to keep Canada happy with the DRIC, or if she simply wants to have the unilateral ability to impose tolls on taxpayers with no other checks and balances, but either way it’s wrong.

I have a letter from the Attorney General’s office that shows that right now, today, MDOT can not toll a road or bridge or other infrastructure without legislative approval.  And you know what?  That is how it should be, and how we should keep it.

Whether tolling is done directly by MDOT or a private contractor, you want someone who has been elected by the people determining where to use that tool.  In fact, in cases where it is being done by a private contractor who is using toll rates not just to break even but also to create profits, I would think you would want to keep voter accountability even more. If toll rates go unfairly through the roof, who are taxpayers supposed to turn too? The Legislature will be powerless at that point; it would actually be players from outside of the state who would have the final word.

Besides taking away the tolling authority we already have, this bill is also too broad in terms of what it defines as a transportation facility.  Let me read to you the bill and how they define it:

“A public transportation facility means any NEW, or EXISTING, DOMESTIC, or INTERNATIONAL, highway, lane, road, bridge, tunnel, overpass, ramp, interchange, ferry, airport, vehicle parking facility, vehicle transportation facility, port facility, locks facility, rail facility, intermodal or other public transit facility, or any other equipment, rolling stock, site, or facility used in the transportation of persons, goods, substances, vehicles, information, or matter of any kind, and any building, structure, parking area, appurtenance, or other property necessary or DESIRABLE for the facility”

My colleagues, that is more than a mouthful.  It is literally anything that is not permanently nailed down in this state, and even then includes some of those things as well.  This is supposed to be a transportation bill?  Really? And it includes such things under the definition as a catchall phrase such as “matter of any kind”?  They should define it the other way, what are the things MDOT couldn’t define as a public transportation facility?  I’m not sure to be honest.  And to be clear, under their definition for all these things it includes not just new but also existing.  It includes domestic and out of state and international.  When it comes to condemnation, it also includes property not just necessary for the project, but also just merely desirable for the facility.  That even includes commercial uses like gas stations, restaurants, hotels, convention centers, and other things that would fall under the definition of being merely “desirable”.  So when a taxpayer has his or her private property taken away, and given to another private entity so that they can make a profit off of it, we can expect that the property may be taken away for a Speedway, or a McDonalds, or a Red Roof Inn, or a Kellogg Center type project that could all be part of any various toll bridge or toll road mixed projects.  Under the current bill these companies would not even have to pay property taxes.

My colleagues, when such a project gets plunked down in your back yard, if the Senate doesn’t stop it, you will have absolutely NO formal vote on that project.  You will have to tell your constituents that it is out of your hands.  Now, some people may like that.  I know where they have passed legislation like this in other states that the consultants actually sell that as a feature, that the legislature gets left of the hook. Well, Michigan legislators are better than that, and there is no way we should be allowing for that here.

Simply put, this takes away too much power from the legislature, power and oversight that it already has, and then also substantially broadens the power of what MDOT can do with that authority at the same time. And the real question is, what does that have to do with the DRIC?  Why not run bills like we have for the Blue Water bridge? The answer is quite simply that we could, and the only reason we aren’t is because the DRIC is being used as leverage to try to pass a bill that in its current form of robbing legislative power would have NO chance, a 0% chance, of passing out of this body on its own. No chance at all.

And why are we being pressured into feeling like we have to do this today?  Being pressured from sources from outside of Michigan? If it wasn’t for the fact that the main potential investor in all of this, the Ontario pension fund OMERS, was recently granted expanded powers by the Canadian government to provide investment management services I am not sure we would even be here. So when tolls are being paid in Michigan, tolls not just to break even mind you but also for profit, Michigan drivers could end up paying toll rates set to ensure that OMERS pensioners makes a high rate of return. We shouldn’t be making decisions on tolling Michigan taxpayers based off of the financial needs and a quest by a Canadian pension fund, the whole reason for the supposed $550 million dollar “loan” they are offering us in the first place, a loan that will have to be repaid by, you guessed it, Michigan tolling.

And now, there are reports that Ohio is getting involved, and has introduced a resolution supporting the DRIC.  Ohio?  Ohio is now going to tell us who MDOT should be allowed to toll?  Maybe we should also ask Indiana or Wisconsin what they think before we pass this bill as well. Maybe we should also check with Mexico to see where they want the NAFTA superhighway to go? At the end of the day, whose law is this anyway?  Well it is ours, or at least it should be.  Maybe some of you  just contracted out our legislative authority and laws as well.

To conclude, if we pass laws in Michigan that give MDOT unilateral tolling power in our state it should be because that is what the Michigan Legislature feels is right, not because of pressure from other states or countries.  And it should also not allow for “instrumentalities of government” from other countries and states to be able enter into contracts that could potentially determine the tolling rates and eminent domain location decisions taking place in Michigan.  Under this bill, new governmental authorities will be created, authorities that will be defined as an instrumentality of government that in some cases will include people from outside of this state.  The bill says that ownership of a project can in vested into these new creations. They will be the ones entering into the contracts.  People will be making decisions that don’t even live here and may not be citizens of our country, let alone our state.  These facilities should not just be publicly owned, but owned by the MICHIGAN public. Texas has put a moratorium on these based on their experience with Mexico for a reason, a moratorium that apparently we have not learned from or listened to.  For some reasons we appear to be in a race instead to be like California, which has little oversight and whose history on these projects is replete with problems. Even there, their law is nowhere near as broad as what has just passed out of the House.

I am also concerned that this bill will hamstring our local governments from being able to build roads.  In other states, like California, local government has had to first pay a penalty in order to build something simply because others might consider it as competition.  Can you imagine, paying someone else for the right to build on your own land? We are being sold that this is a panacea, that there is no risk to Michigan, and yet the bill passed today is nowhere near strong enough in ensuring that local governments won’t have to pay penalties like this in order to build in their own backyard or face injunctions to stop expansion or construction that is underway.

This version of the bill is the wrong way to go, and I vote resoundingly NO.

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