DFL legislators want a look at the use of public funds. The auditor says any study must remain strictly impartial in the labor dispute.
A group of almost 100 DFL legislators wants the state to audit the books of the Minnesota Orchestra — although it is unclear exactly what the scope of that request includes.
At a news conference Thursday, Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, cited the public investment of $14 million in bonding and more than $1 million in Legacy Fund money in the orchestra, which has locked out its musicians in a labor dispute.
“The lockout threatens the value of that asset,” Davnie said.
In an interview, Legislative Auditor James Nobles said he would “certainly try” to fulfill the request, but he said his office must be cautious in how extensively it would look at such things as the orchestra’s business plans, private fundraising and ability to pay musicians.
“Beyond how state money is used, I need to understand the expectations, and I do not in any way want to intervene in ongoing labor negotiations,” Nobles said. “I’m very conscious of stepping beyond some boundary.”
Davnie said 67 House and 23 Senate DFLers (and no Republicans) signed the letter requesting the audit, which he said might provide information that breaks the current logjam in negotiations.
Management and musicians have met only once since the union was locked out on Oct. 1. The parties agreed on Jan. 2 to conduct a financial analysis, but they have not been able to agree on the parameters of that study in the two months since.
“This could be a different way of getting a look at all the books,” said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who signed the letter.
Michael Henson, the orchestra’s CEO and president, said in a statement that if the legislative auditor chooses to take up the request, the orchestra “would be pleased to work with his office to fully share the financial position of the Minnesota Orchestra, especially as it relates to public funds.”
The orchestra received $14 million in 2010 for a remodeling project underway at Orchestra Hall. In addition, the institution receives state grants that include Legacy fund dollars. In testimony before Kahn’s Legacy committee earlier this session, Henson said the orchestra had sequestered all state operating grants so long as the contract struggle continues.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299