Walker proposes changes at Circus World
By Ben Bromley, Baraboo News Republic
Circus World Museum would get a new ringmaster under a plan Gov. Scott Walker announced Wednesday.
Included in Walker’s biennial budget proposal is a plan to put the local historic circus site under the big tent of the State Historical Society. Unlike the state’s other historic sites, Circus World’s operations are funded privately through gate receipts, donations and other sources. Walker’s plan would make Circus World’s 10 staff members state employees and would sweep the site’s revenue into state coffers.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the move is designed to put Circus World on equal footing with the state’s other historic sites, whose workers are paid by the state.
State Rep. Fred Clark, D-Sauk City, said he’s concerned canceling Circus World’s lease agreement with the state — the circus grounds, buildings and collections are state-owned — could stall the institution’s turnaround. Under Executive Director Steve Freese, he said Circus World has paid off debt and increased membership.
“It looks to me, on the face of it, that they’re trying to punish success, and I don’t know why,” Clark said. “I think that Circus World has really made a recovery in the last few years.”
The Republican governor’s proposed two-year budget would allocate $1.2 million to pay Circus World’s 10 employees. The budget requires approval from both the state Assembly and Senate.
Clark said he would prefer to see Circus World operate independently, as local decision-making has helped the site rebound. “I think it’s allowed them to be flexible and innovative,” he said.
“We’re certainly not sure where the impetus for this came from,” Clark said. “We’re going to be asking some questions, for sure.”
Representatives from Circus World Museum could not be reached for comment Thursday.