Soglin: 'They haven't provided anything of substance in regards to how our money is spent.'
Saying it would be a "futile effort," Mayor Paul Soglin won't veto the 2013 budget, despite his unhappiness with the high level of spending and debt in the $267 million spending plan the Common Council approved on Wednesday evening.
"Since there's a significant number of council members, enough to override a veto, I'm not going to put us through that," Soglin said at a news conference Friday morning.
But Soglin continued to harshly criticize the Overture Center, which received an additional $900,000 in funding due to amendments to the mayor's budget, for a total of $1.75 million. He blasted the Overture's lack of disclosure on how it is spending its money.
In pushing for more funds, Overture officials threatened that they would have to cut free or reduced programming for school children. But, Soglin said, of the 46 schools that attended programming at Overture, only five are in the city. [Editor's note: Isthmus associate publisher Linda Baldwin is a member of Overture Center Foundation's board of directors.]
"Madison taxpayers are watching their taxes go up, greater than the rate of inflation," Soglin said. "Many of them are pensioners, many of them are folks on fixed income or they've seen their income severely cut in recent years. And they're paying because Overture and the Chamber of Commerce and DMI [Downtown Madison Inc.] are all saying we should pay for these high school kids to attend performances at Overture."
"I'm waiting for one person to specifically tell me why it's in the interest of city of Madison taxpayers and residents to pay for Poynette students attending performances at Overture," he added. "This is beyond reason."
Soglin urged city residents to pressure council members to prioritize the city's own neighborhoods over children from Highland, Janesville, River Valley or "wherever."
"I'd like to see some of these school administrators write thank you notes to the people I'm hearing from in their 60s and 70s telling me they're struggling to hold onto their homes," he said.
Rob Chappell, spokesman for the Overture Center, says that the mayor either doesn't have the full picture of who Overture serves or is misinterpreting it.
"He asked for some very specific information from us, and we provided it," Chappell says. "But with all due respect, I believe he's misinterpreting some of the figures."
The city will soon be entering into its contract negotiations with Overture and Soglin says he'll pressure the group to provide detailed financial information, the way all other organizations that get city funding do.
"They haven't provided anything of substance in regards to how our money is spent. It's like pulling teeth," he said. "We want salary schedules, we want breakouts, we want to know if there are other revenues. There's no reason this shouldn't be a public record."
Soglin has long been critical of how the Overture has been managed. He sat on a committee that contemplated how to restructure it two years ago. Throughout the process, he was one of the biggest skeptics.
And last year, the mayor infuriated many on the council when he told the Capital Times he was waiting for the arts center to "crash and burn."
Soglin said the city's financial situation is such that next year it will be looking at layoffs and service cuts.
Although the mayor is clearly upset with Overture and the Common Council, he did crack a few jokes about the situation. "It reminds me of that scene in Blazing Saddles where Cleavon Little puts the gun to his head and threatens to kill himself if the angry mob bent on murdering him doesn't back off."