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Detroit Bridge – Political Patronage At Work

From Michigan’s Mackinac Center For Public Policy:

Detroit Bridge: Political Patronage, or Power to the People?

By Jack McHugh | Oct. 17, 2011

MIRS [the Michigan Information & Research Service] has reported that all 12 Democrats in the state senate — only four of whom are from Detroit — will vote “yes” on a controversial Detroit-Windsor bridge, but only if the deal includes a wish list of “community benefits” being written by Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit.

See an excerpt from this bill below.

What are these “community benefits”? The fancy labels like “employment training and related facilities;” “housing;” “economic development;” “green development initiatives;” and more sound nice, but the benefits of these programs are, at the very best, uncertain.

Here’s what is certain: For the political system’s foot soldiers, these programs translate into jobs with the government or organizations funded by government. For the moneyed interests that bankroll the political system, it means “economic development” — business subsidies, sweetheart real estate deals, selective tax breaks, government contracts and so on. These benefits to the politically connected boil down to political patronage.

This is the way the Democrat Party has kept itself in power since time immemorial.

Is patronage the only way? The rationale for these programs is concern that bridge construction and operation will have a disparate impact on the surrounding area, for which there should be compensation. To the extent this is valid, here’s a better alternative: Give the compensation directly to the people affected, and skip the middleman politicians, bureaucrats and community organizers.

If property owners and residents themselves believe that yet another “employment training” program or “green development initiative” is the best way to rebuild their community, they can use this money to create those programs voluntarily.

The flaw with this alternative is that the recipients of this largess might not remember to vote Democrat. They might not even give some of the money back to the Democrat Party campaign’s coffers.

So this will never do.

Meanwhile, here is the pertinent part of the bill in question, via the Michigan legislature’s website:


House Bill 6128 (Substitute H-2)
Sponsor:  Rep. Rashida Tlaib
Committee:  Transportation


The bill would require the Michigan Department of Transportation to provide, wherever possible, technical support, advice, and resources to assist community representatives in communities that are affected by an international bridge project to enter into community benefits agreements with contractors and developers implementing the project.  This would apply in cases where construction has not yet begun or where it has begun and is continuing as of the effective date of the bill…

Community Benefits Agreement

The term "community benefits agreement" refers to a private contract between an owner, contractor, developer, or concessionaire and representatives of communities, including community organizations, neighborhood associations or other residential groups, and labor, environmental, and faith-based organizations that implements benefits to the community to mitigate the negative impacts of the proposed development. Such benefits could include preservation, restoration, or replacement of community resources affected by the project; jobs, employment training, and related facilities; modifications or remedies for structures or equipment affected by the development; economic development; housing and sustainable investment in home repair programs; improving air quality programs; and green development initiatives

This is why Mr. Obama is pushing for infrastructure repairs on a national lever — again.

And this is also why such repairs have often not been made in the past. Because so much of the money allotted for construction and repairs ends up going to "employment training" and "green development initiatives."

As our mom used to say, this is why we can’t have nice things.

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011. Comments are currently closed.

2 Responses to “Detroit Bridge – Political Patronage At Work”

  1. Astravogel says:

    “Community representatives…” Just who, pray
    tell, are they? Do not the elected representatives
    of the locale in question ‘represent’ the people?
    Do they not ‘organize’ the folks to support a
    beneficial objective through publicity? Who needs
    more flea party types to get in the way of a project
    that is needed? If, in fact, it is needed.

  2. This whole situation is strange.

    The [Republican] governor has had the itch for this bridge since he was hired. The excuse is that it will leverage federal monies that can be used for roads. Even though the owner of the current bridge has said he would allow the state to use his tax credits for buy-in to the federal grants. (a simplified version provided here)

    All while claiming that it won’t cost the taxpayer a dime, the governerd needs to acknowledge the cost in pushing this so far is now over $41,000,000 according to state records. (since 2001 – which includes the former governor) Then, these Dems are going to cost us yet another fortune for holding the governerd’s plans hostage for ‘community benefits’.

    Funny, is that they wanted the bridge back when it was a Granholm [Democrat] plan without such demands.

    There is too much history here about the bridge and this whole process, but a couple facts.
    1. This bridge’s current owners have title based on treaty, that only an act of US congress can abbreviate.
    2. Canada has tried to assert ownership several times in the past and is now attempting to loan 500 billion for the down payment of building of the new bridge. A loan BTW that would result in the loss of the bridge TO Canada if default were to happen.
    3. The bridge’s current owners would like to add a second span next to the current one.
    4. Traffic is down by 50% from 1997

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