UPDATE: State will not run Circus World Museum - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: State will not take over operation of Circus World Museum


MADISON (WKOW) -- The State of Wisconsin will not run the Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee made that official in a unanimous 16-0 vote Tuesday.

With a financial shortfall projected for 2014, the Circus World Museum staff and board found itself the subject of an attempted takeover by its public partner.  State Historical Society officials convinced Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) they could manage it better.

Gov. Walker proposed the change in the state budget, putting it into the hands of the Joint Finance Committee.

"I'm somewhat surprised actually how much time and energy the Committee has spent debating a circus," remarked Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine).

But the Governor's Circus World proposal would have added over $3 million to the next two-year budget, ultimately leading to its defeat.

Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) asked his colleagues to fund Circus World at a lower rate of $300,000 dollars per year, without the state takeover.

"Unfortunately, it can't survive on the gate," said Sen. Olsen.  "And it cannot survive on the revenue that it has generated through grants and gifts and things like this.  We need to pour a little money in there."

"As much as I've enjoyed going to Circus World and my kids love that, I want my kids to have TA's (teaching assistants) in the classroom and good teachers who have the resources they need," said Rep. Mason.

Sen. Olsen's motion failed, but Circus World administrators are just happy to maintain their independence.  They hope to work with the State Historical Society to develop a plan that would allow them to make up for the shortfall with a line-of-credit.

"We're prevented from having that line-of-credit because of a provision in the lease and management agreement that requires us to give everything we buy, including the lawnmowers, the tables and chairs, the costumes our performers use, all have to be gifted to the state as soon as there's no lein on them," said Steve Freese, Circus World Museum's Executive Director.

In other words, the state owns all of the items Circus World could use as collateral to get a loan.  Freese says if that can change, there would be no cash flow problem.

He hopes to have a meeting with the Historical Society officials on a new plan within the next two weeks.


MADISON (WKOW) -- The legislature's Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday unanimously voted to remove a proposal from Gov. Scott Walker's budget that would have handed day-to-day operations of the Circus World Museum in Baraboo over to the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

The Governor proposed the motion because the organization is losing money, even though Circus World administrators and board members wanted it to remain independent.

JFC members ultimately sided with Circus World, with many noting that the $700,000 annual price tag under the Governor's proposal was too much for the state to take on at this time.

Sen. Luther Olsen had proposed a motion that would have given Circus World $300,000 per year out of the state budget, provided the Circus World Foundation could raise 150% of that money on its own.  It would have also kept the Circus World independent.

But JFC members voted that down 11-5, with those dissenting again noting the cost.

Circus World Executive Director Steve Freese expressed relief that the organization will remain independent of the state.  Freese said he will work with the State Historical Society to draw on existing collateral for new loans.

Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann was at today's JFC budget session and will have live reports on 27 News at 5 and 6.

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