Mayor Jim Suttle and City Councilwoman Jean Stothert tangled Friday before two groups of business leaders — criticizing each other on city fiscal policy, but also discussing their respective visions for Omaha's future development.
The candidates told a large audience at a downtown commercial real estate workshop that growing commercial developments such as Aksarben Village need improved transit connections with other projects, including the planned cancer center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. They agreed on a need to support other potential developments with incentives such as tax-increment financing.
But Suttle said Stothert voted against city funding for the cancer center and sought to obstruct other development opportunities. The council approved a new occupation tax on tobacco products to support UNMC's project.
“It's great to hear her talk about all the things we are doing, but she has not been a part of that with her activities on the council,” Suttle said of Stothert.
Stothert said she has simply opposed higher taxes, fees and regulations. She repeated a tenet of her campaign stump speech: City financial challenges have simply been addressed with more taxes and fees.
“I say no when I feel like I need to say no,” she said.
“ 'Yes' is easy. 'No' is hard.”
Earlier, Suttle told about 30 people attending the Metro Omaha Women's Business Center forum that his efforts to plug budget holes with new taxes, including the restaurant tax, helped get the city's finances in check.
He characterized Stothert as “a voice of no” who has spent her time on the council rejecting efforts to “solve the city's dilemma.” He also asked for clarity on her suggestion that the city repeal some of its taxes.
“She needs to publicly step forward and produce a (profit and loss) sheet for the city,” Suttle told the women's business forum. “And that is, how do you ... cut out $60 million in revenue, raise your spending for more police officers and other things, and still end up with a positive number? How do you do that? That's what she must show and demonstrate, as opposed to the rhetoric.”
Stothert said she has long been an advocate of conservative financial decision-making, dating back to her time as a member of the Millard school board. She criticized Suttle's decision to implement new taxes as a last-ditch measure, saying he should have been more on top of the city's financial situation.
She said increased spending on city services, including the police department, has not translated to better services.
“The people in Omaha are saying no to increased taxes, increased regulations and increased fees, and I have, too,” Stothert said. “The hard-earned dollars that our businesses and our citizens make — I want to keep more in their pockets.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1543, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact the writer: 402-444-1068, email@example.com, twitter.com/PerezJr