Pawlenty may delay Guthrie money until at least 2005

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February 24, 2003 // UPDATED 8:59 am - April 30, 2007
By: David Brauer and Lloyd Nicholas
David Brauer and Lloyd Nicholas

The Guthrie Theater says it will not build a Downtown riverfront complex unless it gets $35 million from the state. But if his spokeswoman's comments are any indication, Gov. Tim Pawlenty may force the theater to wait at least two more years.

Since 2000, the Guthrie has sought the state subsidy for its $125 million, three-theater project to be built just east of the Mill District on the Mississippi River. Last year, the legislature approved $24 million in bonds for the project, but then-Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed the money.

Guthrie officials -- and many legislators -- vowed to undo Ventura's action this year. Asked last October whether he would favor state funding for the Guthrie, then-candidate Pawlenty told Skyway News "Yes."

However, with a $5.5 billion budget deficit (more than twice what was projected at the time of that interview), Pawlenty's press secretary Leslie Kupchella says the governor probably won't consider the Guthrie project for at least a year.

Kupchella said the Guthrie and other bonding projects left "on hold" after Ventura's vetoes aren't likely to be reviewed during the 2003-05 budgeting cycle, which the legislature is currently debating. "It's not realistic given current budget restraints," Kupchella said.

Guthrie spokesman James Morrison remains confident that the state still has enough financial wiggle room to help finance the theater. "If the government were to take up the $350 million capital projects vetoed during the last session and add $1 billion to this amount, the [borrowing] would still be less than the legal cap of 3 percent of the state's operating budget," said Morrison.

Bonding, or borrowing, spreads out the state's costs over several years, meaning the state would pay the bulk of a Guthrie subsidy in the future, potentially after the current crisis has passed.

Morrison wouldn't say the Guthrie would give up if Pawlenty sticks to his delay. However, Morrison noted that the project's cost rises $5 million for each year of waiting "and we've already been delayed a year" by the Ventura veto.

Morrison said part of the $90 million that the Guthrie has raised privately might also disappear, since some donors made gifts contingent on state support. "How long can you string along the private-sector investment in this project?" Morrison asked rhetorically. "There are a lot of competing projects in this community for private donations."

Pawlenty has already dealt the Guthrie one blow: earlier this month, he "unalloted" $2 million that had been approved for riverfront-theater planning. Governors can take back certain appropriations to balance the state's budget.

Morrison said, "I can't say we're not putting in carpeting because of [the lost $2 million]. But we need the state's full participation for this project to happen."