Madison officials are bracing for the possibility that Mayor Paul Soglin could veto the city budget over two highly contentious spending items.
"This is the first time that I've heard that word [veto] as an alder, but I've only been around for seven years," says Council President Lauren Cnare.
Several council members are proposing amendments to Soglin's $250 million spending plan, which raises taxes 3.3%. Both amendments relate to commitments the Common Council made before Soglin took office this spring.
One would add $12.7 million in tax incremental financing for the Edgewater Hotel renovation project -- under former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, the council had approved $16 million in TIF funds, but Soglin cut this to $3.3 million.
Soglin's budget also provides less funding for the Overture Center. The council had agreed to fund the center $2 million, but Soglin's budget calls for $1.35 million. Alders have proposed an amendment to add $500,000, for a total of $1.85 million for Overture.
Soglin -- who is at a conference and could not be reached for comment -- has hinted that he might veto the budget over those amendments, says Cnare. The mayor does not have a line-item veto, and can only reject the entire budget.
The council can override this veto, with 14 of its 20 members voting to do so.
"I have asked the mayor, if he does feel a veto is necessary, do it as quickly as possible," Cnare says. "He didn't promise anything."
Cnare says that a veto would create major headaches for the city and council. "We are truly treading into uncharted territory," she says. "If a veto comes, we're all going to look at each other and say, 'okay, we need to schedule a meeting.'"
They won't have much time. In a memo (PDF) to Cnare, City Attorney Michael May wrote that state law requires the city to send out its property tax bills by the third Monday in December (Dec. 19 this year). The city uses the state Department of Administration to fold, assemble and mail the bills, which takes about a week, May writes. It takes the city treasurer about four days to print the bills. "Thus, printing should start Tuesday, Dec. 6."
The council begins deliberation on the budget Tuesday, Nov. 15, and meetings are also scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. The mayor has five days after the council approves the budget to veto or sign it.
"It will be a scheduling nightmare," fears Cnare, if there is a veto.
Cnare would like to have some indication of where the mayor stands going into the deliberations. "It would be very important for the mayor to articulate which areas of the budget cause him the most stress," she says.
Although 10 alders have sponsored the Edgewater amendment, Cnare did not know whether the council had the 11 votes needed to pass it (even some sponsors might have changed their minds on it, she says). Thirteen alders are sponsoring the Overture amendment, one short of making it veto proof.
Cnare made no predictions on whether the council could muster the votes to override a veto. And while she cannot predict what Soglin will do, Cnare adds, "I think the mayor is an excellent strategist and is very good at finding a way of getting things done."