Andie Wilson: Facts and opinions are different
On June 15, the Nevada Appeal ran an article about roads, written by Regional Transportation Committee members Brad Bonkowski and Lori Bagwell. These two Carson City supervisors spent several weeks writing this fact-based article, relying on data supplied and verified by city staff, who are exceptionally well educated and masters in their respective fields. This was a factual article intended to address our community’s deteriorating road conditions and explain why money to improve the roads cannot simply be legally moved from one fund to another. The article also touched on the bigger issues affecting road funding nationwide.
On July 24, an illogical and unscientific rebuttal of sorts was published. From the opinionated content of this article, it appears no actual research took place. Relying on personal opinion and unfounded, whimsical, untested ideas, the writer insisted that city government could just move money around as they see fit (which was clearly explained in the original article, cannot be legally done), and asserting that our decaying roads are actually thanks to a “scheme” of sorts.
One unique suggestion was that since the city had received a $7 million grant to replace/repair infrastructure from the federal government, the city must have an additional $7 million sitting in the coffers to repair roads. As point of fact, these monies didn’t exist, and the infrastructure project could not take place without the federal grant. An equally confusing suggestion was that a special assessment could be levied against developers for every new home built in Carson City. It is unfortunate that he appears unaware of many years of discussions about special assessments, some even while he was in office, that emphasized that any assessed monies would have been devoted to fire and schools. Again, if he had read the article, he would have caught the ongoing issue where departments like fire, police, public works, human resources, all these vital departments, are already forced to compete for the limited dollars in the Carson City annual budget.
Why would a layman, a non-specialist, a person with literally no special training or knowledge on the complicated topic of roads or infrastructure, be allowed to submit a “rebuttal” to a factual article? This person has not earned a role as a regular contributor to the paper — someone whose opinion has gained popularity or merit, but is merely an intermittent, unscientific complainer with no special background or pertinent training. This unfortunate column is indicative of a larger problem in our society, spearheaded by armchair bloggers and social media know-nothings, where facts no longer seem to matter. We all have our opinions on every topic, and we will not be discouraged by facts.
Facts and opinions are different, nor are they equal. They are both important, but on topics involving infrastructure, politics, or the like, while a person’s opinion may be valid and even interesting, it does not outweigh contradicting facts. The concept that opinions and facts are of equal importance is ignorance in its most fundamental form.
I do not like the fact that the real solution to our country’s decaying road system is for Congress, arguably the most inept and dysfunctional political body in modern history, to pass a new infrastructure bill and rebuild the gas tax system to account for the actual costs of today’s road maintenance, as well as electric vehicles and truck traffic. I do not like the fact that Carson City doesn’t have the $100 million needed today to bring our roads back to appropriate condition, and that we can’t steal that money from the bucket of money allocated to schools, or parks & recreation, or any of Carson City’s other departments. I do not like the fact that Carson City’s citizens voted to NOT increase the local gas tax to provide for much-needed road maintenance and funding, and yet continue to complain about the roads and attack our local elected officials for not using their magic wands to fix these real problems. But these are facts. It doesn’t matter if I like them, or don’t like them.
Facts matter because we live in the real modern world, built on the backs of science and math. You may wish or even demand that funds be moved from one bucket to another, but it cannot legally be done, so it won’t happen, and the roads won’t get fixed. Real solutions to real problems only evolve when agendas are left at the door in exchange for the hard work and tough compromises that today’s problems demand.
I am so grateful that we live in a country governed by the First Amendment, where we all have a voice and the right to use it. Thank goodness for our charitable local press, who allows anyone (obviously) to have their say. But I have a fair, realistic expectation that articles are written either by trained reporters doing appropriate research, or by specialists in the field. The appropriate place for an opinion piece is in the “Letters to the Editor.” I would love to see the Nevada Appeal implement a clear set of guidelines to help all of us delineate the important difference between facts and opinions, while still providing room for both. The national and local press have assisted us in arriving at this sad point in our nation’s history, and I pose that it is their responsibility to now course correct.
If this commentary insults you, good. That means you’re listening. We are all guilty of ignoring facts, changing the truth, altering our perceptions to fit our desired versions of reality, and it needs to stop. Every one of us is guilty of finding news and information that panders to beliefs we already have, and it’s patently ignorant.
This commentary is written in memory of Ande Engleman, a true friend and mentor who is greatly missed by many Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike. I didn’t always agree with Ande but I learned from her the value of facts, research, bipartisanship, open, accountable government, and the value of opposing, respectful discourse, as well as the impending harm our country’s growing lack of education will cause. Ande also believed in picking fights when necessary for enlightenment. Nothing would make Ande more proud (or surprised) than to watch the collective IQ of Carson City’s citizens grow by a couple of points as they intentionally expand their minds to collect and accept data, and challenge perhaps even their own most closely-held beliefs, all in the name of facts. Ande would also be happy to see this article be the very last the Nevada Appeal ever allows to run, written by a layman, a non-specialist… nothing more than a simpleton with an opinion to share. The proper place for this commentary would be the “Letters to the Editor.” Wouldn’t you agree?
Andie Wilson is a Carson City resident.