Omaha, NE—The mayor’s race is over but the streetcar fight is just getting started.
Only hours after incumbent Republican Jean Stothert defeated Democrat Heath Mello 53-47, Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom—led by Stothert supporter Doug Kagan—has unleashed a 2,700 word diatribe headlined “Trolley Folly.”
Deriding the streetcar as an “amusement park ride” NTF insists the $156 million “scheme” that includes a $7.5 million annual operating budget is irresponsible and foolish.
As News Channel Nebraska first reported, prior to the April 4 primary both Stothert and Mello clearly backed the trolley but backed-off when streetcar critic Taylor Royal roped in 11 percent of the primary vote.
The mayor’s history goes like this:
Stothert (Feb. 17, State of the City Address): “We need to move forward with a modern streetcar. The vitality of our downtown and midtown depend on it…we believe we can pay for a streetcar without a property tax increase.”
Stothert (April 8, News Release): “I pledge that any city funding for a streetcar project in the future, if a specific plan is proposed and feasible, would come from a funding option that would require a public vote.”
And according to Stothert’s re-election website, that “funding option” would be general obligation funds, the same funds that paid for the CenturyLink Center.
Though not directly calling out the mayor by name NTF has this to say about the payment plan: “Supporters tout no property tax increase. However, floating $10-30 million in general obligation and redevelopment bonds means paying back both principle and interest with property tax $$.”
And that’s just for openers. Here’s more of NTF’s anti-streetcar rant.
- “Proponents expect a $20 million state appropriation, not likely as the state wallows in a $230 million deficit.”
- “Streetcars are an obsolete technology that has no place on Omaha streets.”
- “Our tax dollars, should invest in needed street renovation and repair, new traffic signal coordination systems, and widening major thoroughfares.”
- “The current bus system adequately serves tourist needs to travel from one spot, like the Botanical Gardens, to another site, like the Old Market. And tourists do have cars.”
In an interview with News Channel Nebraska, NTF’s Kagan said the conservative tea partiers would not fight the streetcar if it was purely privately-funded.
News Channel Nebraska: Isn’t it true that Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom have never supported a tax hike.
Kagan (NTF): We have never supported a tax hike, though we have supported bond issues like the County one last fall.
Meanwhile Midtown 2050, which pushes the “implementation of a modern Farnam streetcar” connecting major destinations and jump starting new development, boasts a line-up that includes Mutual of Omaha, Heritage Services, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Nebraska Medicine and Kiewit Corporation.
Without naming names NTF claims that “Trolley boosters include eco-radicals, modern Luddites who simply want us to forego modern conveniences in transportation, like cars and trucks.”
It’s expected that public hearings on the streetcar will be held later this year.