The Madison City Council voted Wednesday night to help the Overture Center for the Arts stay afloat by granting it $500,000 of additional city funding, a controversial move that contributed to the mayor’s threat to veto the entire budget.
The decision will raise the total Overture funding being provided by the city to $1.85 million. The city’s 2012 budget totaled $186,312,361, City Finance Director David Schmiedicke said.
The Overture figure was a compromise, Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, District 5, said. The Overture originally requested $2 million in funding, while Mayor Paul Soglin originally advocated for $1.35 million.
Although the motion was expected to pass, it was nevertheless met with strong opposition from several City Council members.
“I’m very concerned about taxpayers,” Ald. Jill Johnson, District 16, said. “It’s the same reason I didn’t support Edgewater. In general, I’m looking for ways to tighten up the budget. It’s very easy to spend someone else’s money.”
The majority of the council, however, felt additional Overture funding was necessary for the city’s cultural and economic health.
“I voted in support of Overture,” Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said. “With any luck, Overture will be able perform admirably for the city and meet all of its fundraising goals.”
City Council President Ald. Lauren Cnare, District 3, seconded Resnick’s sentiment. She offered to write a check in support of the Overture right there, saying she was willing to “put [her] money where [her] mouth is” in a time of economic downturn.
Soglin, however, opposed the additional funding. He threatened a veto following the council’s decision to support the project and revoke funding for a $125,000 study concerning performing arts in Madison.
He said he would have accepted the Overture decision to continue without threat of a veto had the council voted to approve the study.
“This was not a question of a hollow threat,” he said. “I have been prepared to accept the half a million for Overture. What prompted my decision was the combination of the half a million and the absence of the study.”
The study, Soglin said, would allow the city to get crucial information about the state of the arts in Madison that would have led to a positive change.
“I’m not saying $125,000 is chump change, but we have a problem here,” Ald. Brian Solomon, District 10, said. “At worst, we confirm our investment in the arts is a good one. At best, we learn what we can do better and understand the importance of other Madison arts venues.”
Soglin’s commitment to the study led the council to reconsider. Members decided to vote again in response to the mayor’s threat.
The second vote passed, with only one vote of opposition, and funding for the study was confirmed.
Despite their reconsideration of the study, several members told Soglin they objected to the way he had conducted the meeting.
“We’ve been told by the mayor to prioritize what’s necessary,” Ald. Matthew Phair, District 20, said. “But after 11 of us voted that it wasn’t necessary now, he threatens a veto because of this?”
The council went on the pass the final amended versions of the capital and operating budgets together, solidifying the city’s 2012 budget.