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Devils and details

Where the heck did Proposal 5 come from, and who's in favor of it?



When it comes to politics, the commies here at News Hits usually hold positions that are the polar opposite of anti-tax crusader Bill McMaster, chairman of Taxpayers United Michigan Foundation.

McMaster helped spearhead the successful drive to pass the Headlee Amendment, the tax limitation measure approved by a majority of Michigan voters way back in 1978. As far as we know, Taxpayers United has not endorsed any proposed tax increase. Ever.

So, we were a bit surprised when we began receiving press releases from Taxpayers United railing against Prop. 5, a measure on the November ballot that seeks to hamstring Michigan government by amending the state constitution so that any tax increase must be approved by a two-thirds supermajority in both the state House and Senate.

It is such a completely horrible idea that virtually every interest in the state is opposed to it, from the United Auto Workers and the state branch of the American Association of Retired Persons to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Even the editorial boards of both Detroit dailies are absolutely opposed to the measure.

There is, however, one entity that not only favors the proposal, but is almost solely responsible for putting it on the ballot: the family of Manuel "Matty" Moroun, owners of the Ambassador Bridge.

That much is irrefutable, though not readily apparent. 

As reported by Rich Robinson of the watchdog group Michigan Campaign Finance Network, nearly all the $2.2 million raised by the Michigan Alliance for Prosperity (the front group that paid signature gatherers to collect the names needed to get the measure on the ballot) came from Liberty Bell Agency Inc., an insurance company that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Oakland Financial Corp. And Oakland Financial, according to federal filings, is owned by Matthew Moroun, son of Matty and a co-owner of the company that controls the Ambassador.

So, yeah, the Morouns (as noted by our colleague Jack Lessenberry in this week's Politics & Prejudices column) are definitely behind Prop. 5.

What we've been wondering is: Why?

"That's the $2,289,921 question," laughs Roger Martin, a spokesman for Defend Michigan Democracy, the broad-based coalition that opposes Prop. 5.

There's clearly a reason why the Morouns are backing Prop. 6: They are desperately trying to stop construction of a publicly owned bridge linking Detroit and Windsor. That span would threaten the near-monopoly the Ambassador enjoys when it comes to cross-border truck traffic in southeast Michigan.

So it's easy to see why the family and entities connected to it are spending millions to protect their financial interests by pushing Prop. 6. But there's no clear reason why they are also funding the anti-tax measure.

McMaster, who says his group is absolutely opposed to a government-built bridge — making it allies with the Morouns on that issue — says he can't get anyone to tell him why the family is, at the same time, dumping millions into the Prop. 5 effort.

"Let me know if you can find an answer to your Big Question," McMaster said in an e-mail.

Martin, formerly a political reporter, said he, too, has no firm information. But he does offer a bit of speculation.

Last year, the Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity — which shares a Lansing address with the Michigan Alliance for Prosperity (and has as its spokeperson Amy Hagerstrom, who's also director of the Michigan AFP) — was responsible for sending fake eviction notices to people of the Delray neighborhood as a scare tactic in an attempt to rally opposition to the publicly owned span. And it wasn't the only time AFP appeared to be working as a front group pushing the family's anti-bridge propaganda.

Could the Mouroun's support for Prop. 5 be payback for the dirty work?

Without inside knowledge, there's no way to be certain. But at this point, that's the only explanation that seems to make any sense, said Martin.

"It looks like a deal between two devils."

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