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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Veto Governor Brown’s Veto

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For the past few years, the Holly Theater in Medford has been raising funds, with the looming promise to restore a grand theater back to glory—and then some.

Early last week, that promise seemed to continue to inch towards reality, with a Walk of Fame style event recognizing their major donors and supportive celebrities like Jim Belushi.

But by mid-week, like a pin to an inflated party balloon, that reality was called into question. The leaders and supporters of the Holly Theater had been particularly encouraged by a $1 million pledge from the State of Oregon during the past legislative session to help pay for the venue’s renovations. It seemed as if the elegant theater—which was opened in 1930, shortly after the start of the Great Depression—would finally have its heyday, and completely fulfill a promise to add cultural vibrancy to the region, as well as bring an influx of tourism and revenue to Medford, a city that needs those funds and active, and whose revenue budget has never enjoyed the same economic buoyance that nearby towns have; Ashland with its robust Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Jacksonville with Britt Fest, and the outlying region with its wine and weed tourism.

The Holly Theater was—and is—slated to be a 1000-seater venue for well-known musical acts and adding to the diverse programming at nearby Craterian Theater; hence, creating a one-two cultural punch for Medford that both gives residents a level of cultural performances often lacking in the region as well as a big economic shot in the arm. In its economic analysis, leaders at the Holly Theater show how its opening will bring $3 million more to the region each year, and help create 90 jobs, with some additional 10,000 visitors to the region each year. That’s no small potatoes.

But last week, Governor Kate Brown, out of the blue, declared that budget item would not happen. It was her first round of vetoes ever since taking office in 2015.

The news was both disturbing and frustrating on several levels.

First off, there is little explanation why this funding was removed. The governor’s office has been reticent about the veto, brushing away inquires by saying that other funding requests had not received the same opportunity for debate by the state legislature.

Second, the veto seems to violate an agreement between Rep. Sal Esquivel from Medford and the governor’s office. As part of the routine horse-trading that happens at state capitols, the Republican Esquivel has explained that he gave his critical vote to pass one of the governor’s top priorities this year—a $550 million tax plan to fund the state’s Medicaid program—for her support of the funding for three projects in Medford. (Also vetoed by Gov. Brown last week were $750,000 for the Harry and David Field ballpark in Medford and $1.9 million for the Bradshaw Drop Irrigation project in Medford.) There is already a theme of distrust between southern Oregon representatives and residents, and state officials, one that often falls along conservative and liberal lines, and urban and rural differences. Although the governor also vetoed spending for a transportation project in Portland, her action to veto three funding projects for Medford only can add fuel to those perspectives and divisions.  

Third, funding for the Holly Theater is exactly the type of investment that the state should put its tax dollars. The Holly Theater isn’t idly asking for a hand-out. They have actively been fundraising for the past several years. They have attached big and small donors, and steadily gathered enthusiasm. It is difficult to imagine a more strategic, long-term, involved and sustainable fundraising scheme. This final injection of money was much-deserved and needed, as well as a vote at the state-level to endorse economic growth and strategies in southern Oregon.

Fortunately, the Holly Theater didn’t take the veto laying down.

A few days after the news, they rallied nearly 300 residents to write letters for the governor to reconsider and restore the $1 million investment in the Holly Theater.

And, moments before we sent this newspaper to the printer, Gov. Brown released a press release that because of the outpouring of concern, she will not veto the $1 million funding for the Holly Theater.

Well done, Southern Oregon!

 

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