Matty Moroun blessed with the noisy clowns as critics EDITORIAL
By Peter Samuel
Detroit bridgeowner Matty Moroun is blessed with profoundly stupid opponents. Take one to start with: Keith Crain a local publisher who penned a column at the weekend headed "Now's the time to sell the (Ambassador) bridge, Matty".
Actually now would be a terrible time for the Morouns to be trying to sell the bridge.
Traffic at the bridge is at its lowest in a dozen years - and not just here, but at other crossings to Canada - and the world economy is looking weaker by the week. American politicians are increasingly protectionist wanting to punish foreign manufactures for supplying us too cheaply - bad for the American cost of living, and of course for trade and international trucking.
And there's huge uncertainty over the competitive environment the Ambassador bridge faces.
A new bridge immediately downstream will have much higher costs than the Ambassador to be sure, so on a level playing field of competition the new bridge would be the loser. But how much traffic gets taken from the existing crossings - despite constant rhetorical allegations of a "monopoly" there are four competing crossings already, the Blue Water Bridge and Detroit Windsor Tunnel, plus a freight rail tunnel in addition to the Ambassador - will depend on how much money governments of the day (Canada and Michigan) are prepared to subsidize new bridge losses.
What kind of competition will there be?
If the government owners of the new bridge did stiff their lenders they'd wipe out their over-investment, but taxpayer bailouts would be just as likely.
Who would buy the Ambassador Bridge facing such unknown competition?
The level of taxpayer undercutting of the Ambassador Bridge, if any, may be somewhat clearer after November 8 when the result of the popular vote on a new bridge is counted. Though you never really know until the vote is in, present indications are that Moroun-sponsored Proposition 6 will win. The opinion surveys show it is something from several points to as much as 21 points ahead.
That in itself is amazing. Normally people favor a nice new bridge.
However the new bridge is advocated endlessly by a whole host of prominent voices from the Governor on down. Most lobby groups and spokespersons favor it. (ADDITION STARTS HERE) Trouble is they won't deal candidly with the capacity issue: when and whether the traffic justifies an expensive new bridge or can better be catered for now with improvement to operations of the existing crossings.
Their venomous attacks on the Morouns preclude any rational consideration of how best to make use of the expensive new Gateway project recently opened, or to consider a parallel span to the old bridge - a way more economical bridge than downriver.
And why can't Canada's nice new Windsor Essex Parkway be connected to the Ambassador Bridge too? What sense is there in building it exclusively for the downriver bridge, which may or may not be built in the forseeable future. A small extension of the Parkway would provide a connection to the expressways on the Canadian side that the Gateway project has finally provided on the US side.
Michigan governor Rick Snyder is full of enthusiasm for the Canadian bridge downriver but like other advocates of this bridge he won't address any rules of pricing or limits to taxpayer subsidies to that project that might assure the existing crossings - not just the Ambassador Bridge company but also the Detroit Windsor Tunnel and the state's own Blue Water Bridge - of fair competition.
As they denounce the Moroun-promoted Proposition 6 to limit Michigan subsidies they avoid any discussion of the need for limits to Canadian subsidies - not just to avoid the burden on Canadian taxpayers but to limit the fallout on existing crossings' financial viability.
Obsessive but incurious local hacks
The local media in Detroit, in Lansing, and in Windsor Ontario too are unanimous in their denunciations of the bridge company and simpleminded cheerleaders for a new bridge. And despite their obsessive focus on the issue they are quite incurious about the details of how it might work.
It is all presented as no more than a morality tale, over and over, it must bore Detroiters. Blinkered and simpleminded the local reporters paint it black and white - a good guys versus bad guy story. Nothing more.
Jack Lessenberry, styled as a "political analyst" for Michigan radio is typical of the local hacks. And he says apparently seriously that Proposition 6 is a bigger issue than whether Romney or Obama are in the White House. He claims the issue is "whether one incredibly rich man can buy our government for his own selfish interest."
Anyone not sharing Lessenberry's obsessions, you see, must be "bought" by the Morouns. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I once received a gift of three cookies from Mrs Moroun in a gift box, and darned good they were.)
Quite a number of others like Lessenberry are so noxious about the Morouns and so paranoid about their supposed political influence you have to think their main enthusiasm for the proposed new government bridge is for the damage it could inflict on the Morouns' net worth, not whether it is actually needed for mundane transportation ends. Or whether it is the best way to upgrade important highway links between Ontario and Michigan.
The obsessive and venomous tone of the attacks on the bridge company and its owners are surely a turnoff for Michigan voters, who likely sense the local media are so biased they need to be treated with more than normal skepticism. (END ADDITION)
No state money needed but it's still an outrage to give people a vote
Notable is the internal inconsistency of two of their main lines of attack.
The ballot proposition 6 says that before state funds may be used to support new international bridges or tunnels there should be a popular vote - and a majority favoring that expenditure at the statewide level and also in the municipality where the new bridge or tunnel is to be located.
Now there is a valid argument about whether such as measure should be inserted into the state constitution. Or left to the legislature to decide. Or for that matter whether a governor can simply do a deal with the Canadians without legislative support - as has occurred.
You can argue about whether it should be on the ballot as Proposition 6.
But the bone-headed stupidity of the new bridge enthusiasts and Moroun haters is seen in the fact that almost in the same breath as they denounce Proposition 6 they shrilly deny that any Michigan state funds are needed.
The Canadians are going to cover any losses on the new bridge, they confidently assert. Michigan taxpayers won't be on the hook for a single cent and any suggestion to the contrary is a "blatant falsehood" and a "lie." Yes, they constantly use over-wrought language like that. And language that suspends all prudent skepticism about politicians and their promises.
If they stopped their indignant jabbering for just a moment to think they might ask themselves: how do people react when you simultaneously argue that the state Government must be free to commit any taxpayer money or run up any debt it wants to underwrite a new international bridge, while insisting there is absolutely no need for any state money, because those Canadians will foot all the bills.
People think you're having them on when you simultaneously insist no state funds are needed, then wax indignant and abusive about any proposed constitutional constraint on such funding.
And maybe that's the reason why Proposition 6 will win.
Not because of devilishly clever TV ads the bridge company is running, but because the new bridge enthusiasts, the Moroun haters, are such a nasty, stupid, confused bunch you wouldn't believe a word they said - editor.
TOLLROADSnews 2012-10-02 ADDITIONS in middle Oct 3 11am