Overture Center funding not sitting well with Soglin

Budget amendment proposed $1M payment to Overture Center

Published On: Oct 22 2012 06:16:49 PM CDT   Updated On: Oct 22 2012 07:41:39 PM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

A Madison budget battle is brewing over the Overture Center.

Mayor Paul Soglin and the Madison Common Council are at odds over $1 million of the city's budget. Soglin said that money is borrowed and shouldn't be used.

Soglin pulled out props Monday to demonstrate how premiums work. He referenced a number of handouts, all citing reasons not to pull from that pot when budgeting.

The Madison Common Council proposed a number of amendments to the mayor's budget, one of which includes a $1 million payment to the Overture Center.

Soglin explained that using borrowed money to cover that expense would leave the city with more debt in the future, and he believes the proposal is irresponsible. The mayor said the money has to come out of the operating budget.

"Borrowed money going into the operating budget? It is unacceptable. It's a recipe for disaster," Soglin said.

The Madison Common Council proposed a number of amendments to the mayor's budget, one of which includes a $1 million payment to the Overture Center. Soglin said the council plans to pay from borrowed money, and he insists it has to come out of the operating budget.

"They have the obligation, they have the responsibility, to propose the cuts and say where it's coming from," Soglin said.

Soglin said he doesn't expect premium payments to keep up in the future unless the economy improves. He said if the council members are going to vote to spend temporary money, he would like to see it spent on other items that have been cut.

"If you're going to do something foolish like that, at least do it for your own services," Soglin said.

Those in favor of funding the Overture Center with city dollars say it doesn't have to be a choice between the arts and other city services. Alderman Mark Clear, who represents District 19, disagrees with the mayor's view, and he said the use of any money in the budget should not be limited.

"It's not like there is certain money that is set aside for only certain purposes," Clear said. "So it's a pooling of resources, just like all of the other things that the city does."

Clear said the Overture Center attracts significant revenue to the city, and not supporting that economic boost could make some of Soglin's top concerns even worse.

"That will result in further budget problems, further exacerbation of social problems, and you get into a cycle of that," Clear said.

Overture Center President and CEO Ted DeDee said the city made a commitment to help fund the center for at least a decade. Soglin said that agreement does not span Madison Common Council terms.

"It would be irresponsible for us to go back to our donors and say, 'The city is not living up to its commitments. We want you to make up the difference,'" DeDee said.

DeDee said a lack of city funding wouldn't shut the Overture Center down, but he said he can't completely rely on donations to keep it operating.

"Taking money from Overture helps to reduce Overture's ability to help the city in its own economic pursuits," DeDee said.

"If push comes to shove, the mayor is probably going to veto the budget," Clear said.

According to Clear, Soglin tried to cut funding for the Overture Center during last budget session, but the Madison Common Council managed to restore $1.85 million in funding from the city budget. Before that, the city's contribution was around $1.4 million.