Monday 16 July 2012

The stingiest businessman in all of the Western Hemisphere

The difference in colour in the background of the text is of no particular significence. It is an anomoly in the printing.

I doubt that any English speaking person around the world hasn’t heard of Ebenezer Scrooge in the story, The Christmas Carol written by Charles Dickens. Scrooge was a real tightwad but of course, it was the name of a fictional character. There is another tightwad in real life that would make Scrooge appear as a philanthropist. The tightwad I am going to tell you about is so stingy as a person; it would seem to be impossible to find anyone like him anywhere let alone in the Western Hemisphere. Before I describe him to you, let me give you some background information.

Between the City of Windsor in the province of Ontario and the City of Detroit in the state of Michigan, there is a body of water called the Detroit River that separates Lake St. Clair to the north and Lake Erie to the south. The only way across the river from those two cities is a tunnel and a bridge that spans the river which at that point is 2,204 feet (641 metres) in width. The bridge had the longest suspended central span in the world when it was completed in 1929—1,850 feet (564 m), a title it would hold until the opening of the George Washington Bridge in 1931. The bridge's total length is 7,500 feet (2,286 m). Construction began in 1927 and was completed in 1929. The bridge is called the Ambassador Bridge. The four-lane bridge carries more than 10,000 commercial vehicles on a typical weekday.  For many years, truckers and other motorists have had to spend two or more hours crossing the bridge because at both ends of the bridge, they are processed by Immigration authorities.

The bridge is owned by Grosse Pointe billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun through his Detroit International Bridge Company in the US and the Canadian Transit Company in Canada. The bridge has held a monopoly on all commercial truck traffic crossing that bridge for the past 30 years.

Hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of heavy freight, largely automotive components, move back and forth across the Ambassador Bridge every day. At present, there is no other way to get across the border in southern Ontario to get to Michigan other than to drive to Port Huron, Michigan which will be shorter than going via or Buffalo, New York but the trucks would then have to go further north than Highway 401 which leads directly to Detroit.  If they take the Buffalo route,  that route would then take them through part of New York, then Ohio, followed by Indiana and finally to Detroit Michigan (a distance of approximately 350 miles (542 km) thereby losing a great deal of time and money in the process.

It is estimated that this billionaire`s firms collect as much as $50 million each year in tolls paid by the trucks crossing the Ambassador Bridge. Multiply that by 30 years and those figures come to $1.5 billion so far.

 No one is really complaining about the tolls however they are complaining about the delays at both ends of the bridge. Obviously the bridge isn`t wide enough to handle all of that traffic anymore so a second bridge would have to be built to take up the slack, so to speak. The new bridge would be a cable stay bridge  and will accommodate the bulk of the cross-border traffic with the original bridge being used for overflow traffic.

 Studies were conducted and designs submitted and the conclusion is that it will cost at least $3.8 billion to build it. I suppose with overruns, it may even cost $4 billion dollars.

 The new bridge will create thousands of high-paying jobs, many of them being permanent, and it will help make the region more economically competitive for 100 years. It won't cost Michigan taxpayers a dime, and even will release $2.1 billion in badly needed federal highway funds to help fix the state's crumbling roads. Even Canada is also going to contribute to the building of the bridge.

 There are virtually no downsides to the project. Yet it is a measure of the weakness of Michigan's political system that an agreement on a new bridge had been held up for years by billionaire Manuel Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. By now you have probably figured it out that Manuel Moroun who has flooded the Legislature with legal bribes in the form of campaign contributions to maintain his monopoly and spent millions in advertising to stop the bridge from being built is in fact the stingiest business man in all of the Western Hemisphere that I am writing about.

Moroun has fiercely and publicly opposed the Canadian-financed span. His Detroit International Bridge Company wants to add a span of its own to the existing bridge. That way, he would still have the complete monopoly on all tolls being paid to cross the river.  

As of mid-May, 2012, Moroun's company had spent $1.6 million this year alone on TV ads opposing the new bridge, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. The advertising and lobbying campaign has influenced a number of Snyder's fellow Republicans in the Michigan Legislature. The GOP-controlled state House approved a supplemental budget bill that bars the governor from spending state money on a U.S.-Canada bridge.

The idea that America's most economically important border crossing should be owned and controlled by one man would make no sense even if the Ambassador Bridge were state-of-the-art. But it was built in 1929, and it is wearing out and was not designed to handle today's heavy loads and giant tractor-trailers and he knows this.

The bridge empties out on the Canadian side into a congested residential neighborhood. On this side, trucks frequently are backed up along Interstate 75 leading to the bridge.

Last year, Governor Snyder tried to get state lawmakers to agree on a new bridge however Moroun's henchmen intimidated the Legislature into refusing to vote on the building of the second bridge. So the governor invoked a little-known rule that allowed him to form an interlocal agreement with Canada to build the bridge.

Moroun was expected to file lawsuits and seek to get a proposal on the statewide ballot that would preserve his monopoly. But while he could afford to spend millions of dollars to try to corrupt the process, Michigan and the economy couldn`t afford to wait any longer.

Bold political leadership is rare these days. However by announcing that the bridge deal was going ahead, Governor Snyder decisively demonstrated leadership and an appreciation of the needs of the people of his state.

The second international bridge will span the Detroit River at no cost to Michigan, and Canadian leaders hailed the project they said will create thousands of jobs and stimulate more trade between the two nations.

Under the terms of the agreement, Michigan isn't obligated to pay any of the costs of the bridge, which Governor Rick Snyder said will cost $950 million. Both countries would be represented on a bridge board, and a Canadian entity would handle design, construction and operation of the bridge.

The cost to build Michigan's half of the bridge would be repaid through tolls collected on the Canadian side of the bridge, but Snyder wouldn't estimate how long that would take.

Canada's government would fund the purchase of land in Canada and Michigan, as well as the cost of building roadways to connect the bridge to Interstate 75 in Detroit. The governor said he expected construction would be finished in fewer than 10 years.

Snyder called the new bridge, which would cross the Detroit River south of the existing Ambassador Bridge, vital to enhancing the $70 billion-a-year trade relationship between Michigan and Canada.

The stingiest man in the Western Hemisphere chooses to keep the crossing tolls solely on his own bridge at the expense of millions of people who recognize the need of having a second bridge that incidentally will not be owned or controlled by Moroun.

The new bridge will definitely considerably cut into his profits and quite frankly, it couldn`t happen to anyone less deserving of consideration that this man.

He has now taken steps to attempt to overturn the deal between Canada and Michigan by putting it to the voters next November. If the Michigan legislators want to vote to put this issue on the ballot, Moroun has to present to them more than 300,000 signatures from the taxpayers. So far he has obtained 420,000.  Moroun underwrote the ballot campaign. Although the precise wording has not been determined, the question to Michigan voters is expected to take the form of a state constitutional amendment on whether the public should have a say in the case before it is bound by an agreement involving international crossings.
Legal opinion still remains divided on whether the move could unravel the agreement, which saw Governor  Snyder circumnavigate his Moroun-friendly legislature and unilaterally ratify the deal on Ottawa’s promise to cover Michigan’s estimated $550 million share of a new state-of-the-art bridge between Detroit and Windsor and recoup the loan from future tolls.

If a majority of voters agree on that issue that the deal should be annulled, the outcome could lead to still another ballot initiative enabling Michigan voters to rule specifically on the new agreement with Canada—a scenario that could involve still more delays in a process that has already frustrated Canada and Michigan for a decade. Then there would be appeals going on for years. 
The delay would be good news for Moroun because until the new bridge is built, his firm will still be pulling in $50 million dollars a year. He may never see the bridge built considering him already being 85 years old but while he is still alive, he would be raking in millions from tolls because of his stranglehold on as much as a quarter of all truck crossings between Canada and the U.S. that crosses his bridge.

It has been said that he is trying to thwart the idea of a second bridge so that he can protect his duty-free gasoline operation at the existing bridge, something he could not do at the proposed second bridge.  I don’t think that is the real reason since what he earns from the sale of gasoline is tiny compared what he earns from the tolls paid by the truckers to cross his bridge. It is my opinion that the real reason he is fighting the proposal for a second bridge is that if a second bridge is built, it will definitely cut his profits in tolls by at least 50%.

And if he passes on in the interim, his son, Mathew who has taken over the reins of the family firm and is considered a chip off the old block, will no doubt carry on his father`s struggle because if the second bridge is built, the profits derived from that bridge will not go into the coffers of their firm.

When you think about it, it really is ludicrous on the part of any government to sell a public bridge to a private entity. A former Ontario government made that same mistake when it sold a public highway to a private entity. Now everyone—taxpayers and motorists alike are suffering as a result of those former stupid governments.

In my opinion, there is no man more wretched in character than one who considers his interests over that of his fellow man. This man has been portrayed as an  influenced capitalist who seeks tax breaks in order to continue living his lifestyle, and a monopolist who wants to avoid competition—typical of greedy people. He definitely is not a human being deserving of our sympathy.

I am tempted to call Manual Moroun an asshole but in doing so I would be doing a disservice to the use of the word because an asshole is an important part of the every living thing which is a hell of a lot more than can be said about the stingiest businessman in the Western Hemisphere.

UPDATE November 7, 2012. 
Michigan voters voted in favour of the Second bridge being built by the Canadians against the wishes of Manual Moroun who owns the first bridge.

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