By Shelli Dawdy
I'm sure there are many Nebraskans who may not have even heard about the City of Lincoln arena issue and those who have understandably not focused on it because it is...well, its a City of Lincoln issue. And yes, it is, to the extent that the residents of Lincoln are the folks who appear to have failed to learn to say no often or loud enough to anything that costs money, but most especially to EVER say that apparently nasty word to the University of Nebraska.
It appears, at least from my perspective, that whatever UNL wants here in Lincoln, UNL gets. The State Fair was supposed to stay where it was. From what I'm told, there were assurances made a few years back when some money was spent on the grounds. Those assurances were like dust in the wind once the University set its sights on that land.
Like the State Fair, this arena issue is not just a City of Lincoln problem. It affects all Nebraskans. This time around, it is not so much that the Arena itself will impact state taxpayers, it is that it's become a hit parade of ethical problems involving elected officials, employees of the University, and yes, City of Lincoln government.
Whether you live in Grand Island, North Platte, Scottsbluff, Omaha, or, of course, Lincoln, the saga of "As the Arena Turns" should disturb you. As Nebraskans, our state (and local) tax dollars are being used by a cadre of folks in these circles to advocate for a political issue, use college students to pack a vote, and to disseminate inaccurate information about the true costs of the project.
If you're outside of Lincoln, I encourage you to take the time to look into the assertions presented and contemplate what you as a taxpayer think ought to be done about it. Even if I supported the idea that the City of Lincoln should build an arena at this point I would be squarely opposed due to the ethical problems involved. Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's vote, I am of the opinion that there should be a number of investigations launched on a number of fronts.
Before listing several resources for your examination, here are two lists of relevant bullet points:
Basic problems with the project and its handling:
- The question being posed to the City of Lincoln voters lists less than 10% of the true cost of the project; the ballot notes $25 million while the costs quantified to date (and that's another subject, too) are over $300 million
- The City is going to grant a blanket indemnification to the BNSF Railroad in regards to clean up costs on the land being bought. $7 million has been budgeted for clean up without extensive testing.
- The infrastructure costs have not been quantified. The $300+ million known doesn't include streets, etc. to get to the arena.
- Stated costs don't include interest.
- The University of Nebraska wants this arena because they want a new basketball venue, but the lease terms discussed mean that UNL will essentially use the property for free.
- City officials and arena proponents have stated that the City of Lincoln has an excellent credit rating. This is simply not true. The City is so far in debt due to overspending that the bond rating is in trouble. The City has a reported $900 million in bonded debt.
- University employees have been appearing in TV ads advocating for the arena. One wonders if it is a conflict of interest.
- UNL students were notified, through the school's communication system about free bus rides to both register to vote and vote, and were given the contact information for the pro-arena group.
- It came to my attention today that Attorney General Jon Bruning is an arena supporter. This appears to be the case, at least in regards to a "pro-arena" get out the vote rally appearance is concerned (see the Faceook event snapshot at the right. Bruning is scheduled to appear at the event). The report I received actually stated that Bruning had made a supportive statement in his role as State Attorney General to an extent that is inappropriate.
Solid sources of information on the issue are as follows:
- Lincoln Journal Star's Deena Winter has been releasing extensive information for weeks on the subject and exposing such problems as the long list of individuals and businesses who will benefit directly from the construction project. (Updated May, 2012: Changes made to the LJS website make it impossible to provide links to searches on their site. To view articles by Winter about the arena, I recommend visiting the LJS site and searching "Deena Winter arena" or "Deena Winter".)
- No2Arena website. It includes fact sheets and much other information. (The No2Arena site has been taken offline.)
- Check out the video embedded below from KLKN TV, which is a report about how UNL students are being encouraged to vote. In addition to the video report, there was a Letter to the Editor in the Lincoln Journal Star from a UNL student who is urging his fellow students to consider whether they SHOULD be weighing in on a question that will affect taxpayers after they are long gone from the City.
Again, I encourage every Nebraskan to examine the issue by checking into the sources above. If you live in Lincoln, you're not doing yourself or your fellow citizens any good service by voting for this project.
If you have thoughts regarding action on the ethics questions involved, I encourage you to post them, below.