Warren Buffett gets into local politics to fight the streetcar

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OMAHA, Neb. –Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has broken his practice of staying out of local politics to urge his hometown of Omaha to scrap its streetcar project because he says it’s too expensive and not as flexible than buses.

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Buffett wrote a letter to the editor of the Omaha World-Herald and met with the mayor this week to lobby against the $306 million bill and urge the city to let residents vote on it.

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But city officials are moving forward with the light rail because they believe it will spur development, including the planned $600 million headquarters tower in downtown Mutual of Omaha.

Buffett said in his letter that he decided to make an exception to his policy of staying out of local issues, even though « it may be off-putting to many to see a rich 92-year-old tell them what’s good for them. their future.” He said he wanted to weigh in on the light rail because it “is going to be extremely expensive if implemented.”

“Residents may be much better served by expanded or more intensive service from the bus system,” Buffett wrote. “As population, commerce and desired destinations change, a bus system can be redesigned. The trams continue to run mindlessly, fueled by large public subsidies. Mistakes are literally cast in cement.

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Buffett did not respond to questions about his letter on Thursday.

The proposed streetcar would start less than 20 blocks from the downtown house Buffett lived in for decades and pass right past the headquarters of his Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate on the way downtown.

Mutual Omaha officials said when they announced their new office tower which is set to become the tallest building in their namesake city, the new light rail was a key part of its plan as it would provide convenient access to the new headquarters. The company declined to respond directly to Buffett’s criticism on Thursday.

The city is counting on new tax revenue from other expected developments along the light rail line to pay for the project. And the city council has already approved the bonds that will pay for it.

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Buffett said he would vote no on the draft if given the chance, but the city is not required to hold an election. The project has moved forward with little significant public opposition since it was announced in January alongside Mutual’s new headquarters.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert told the Omaha World-Herald that she met with Buffett on Wednesday to discuss the streetcar and city development.

« I have great admiration for Mr. Buffett, » Stothert said, « but I respectfully disagree with his position on the streetcar. »

Buffett’s small headquarters staff of about two dozen people is unlikely to increase the number of people using the streetcar, even if it passes right outside their front door, because it won’t expand. only about seven blocks west of the office.

But the conglomerate Buffett leads as chairman and CEO owns more than 90 companies worldwide, including BNSF Railroad, Geico Insurance, several major utilities and an eclectic assortment of manufacturing and retail outlets such as Dairy Queen and Precision Castparts. Berkshire also owns about $300 billion in stock, including major investments in Apple, Coca-Cola and Bank of America.

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