Madison’s City Council passed the 2013 operating budget Wednesday night, eliminating a bus fare increase and allocating $1.75 million to the Overture Center.
The total cost for next year’s operating budget will be $267.1 million, and Mayor Paul Soglin now has to decide whether to pass the budget or veto it.
Soglin said city expenditures since 2000 have grown around 4 percent annually, which outstrips the cost of living, which has been growing at 2 percent. He said in the past six years, Madison has borrowed $14 million to help fund the operating budget.
Soglin had initially proposed cuts to the Overture Center and a proposed bus fare increase of 25 cents. However, he eliminated the bus fare increase and allocated more money to Overture in his amendments released Monday, deciding to give the Overture Center more funding than he initially proposed but less than City Council’s desired increase.
“It’s a new world,” Soglin said. “I love this job. I want to do it right, but we can’t do everything for everyone, and there needs to be priorities. I’m fearful that we don’t have our priorities straight.”
He said he had proposed to cut the funding to the Overture Center because the city has no way to pay for it and the Overture lacks transparency.
Soglin said he was critical because no one in the city knows where the Overture’s subsidy is going and the executives of the center have had their salaries doubled over the last two years.
“We have started projects without having cash in hand,” Soglin said. “We have to wake up and understand that this is a different time, a different city.”
Soglin also said many of Madison’s citizens, particularly state employees who have seen their real incomes go down due to Act 10, are having an increasingly difficult time continuing to pay the increases in property taxes every year.
“[The City Council is] borrowing money, not even to maintain basic city services — we’ve had two successive years of not properly maintaining the city fleet, we cannot provide adequate bus services, we’re way behind other cities in the area of food — nutrition, food economy and public market access,” Soglin said. “There is no practical way of funding the Overture Center.”
The council voted 16 to 4 to continue to subsidize the Overture Center.
Along with not increasing bus fares, the council chose to allocate $150,000 to go toward improved metro services to Owl Creek, one of Madison’s lower-income neighborhoods.
Ald. Brian Solomon, District 10, was one of the members who opposed the bus fare increase.
“I know we need revenue, but we shouldn’t be doing it on the back of our low-income bus users,” Solomon said. “We shouldn’t be creating a regressive tax.”
Ald. Lisa Subeck, District 1, said she was against the bus fare increase and supported providing a bus line for the Owl Creek neighborhood.
“Actual bus service makes the most sense for this city,” Subeck said. “When we put affordable housing on the very outskirts of the city, that’s the only place [low-income people] can live, and they don’t receive the same services there.”
If Soglin decides to veto the budget, members will call an emergency council meeting in the following weeks, during which the council will either reach a compromise or the mayor’s veto could be overturned.