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Brown vetoes millions for Medford

A Republican lawmaker says Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is vetoing funding for three significant Medford-area projects in a political retaliation for him opposing her on health care issues.

Brown provided notice late Tuesday that she intends to veto $1 million in funding for the restoration of the Holly Theatre in downtown Medford, $750,000 for Harry & David baseball stadium improvements and $1.8 million for a Rogue Valley Irrigation District piping project.

Under the Oregon Constitution, a governor must provide at least five working days' notice before vetoing a bill.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, said he provided a key vote to move a health care tax out of the House during the Oregon legislative session that concluded earlier this year. He said there was no other discussion about whether he needed to keep backing the governor's health care proposals.

In exchange, he was promised funding for the Holly Theater, baseball stadium and irrigation project, as well as money for a Vietnam Wall replica and Family Nurturing Center nursery, Esquivel said in an email blast to supporters Tuesday night.

Later in the legislative session, Esquivel said he grew concerned about efforts to fund abortion plus health insurance coverage for illegal immigrant children. He agreed to co-sponsor an initiative to let Oregonians vote on whether they want tax dollars used for those purposes. The initiative will go to voters if backers can gather enough signatures.

"What is the governor afraid of? That the people are going to override her agenda? I just think it's healthy that people have that choice," he said.

Supporters say the multi-million-dollar health care tax was designed to help keep the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program, afloat over the next two years. It also helped lawmakers fill a $1.4 billion budget shortfall in this year's legislative session.

Esquivel said Brown is using her line-item veto powers to punish him, but is hurting Southern Oregon.

"Friends — that is partisan politics at its best — she certainly reigns queen when it comes to singling out one Representative that works for his district and the State of Oregon and doesn't take his orders from her or the present leadership," Esquivel said in the email. "I gave them what they asked for — Brown needs to hold up her end of the bargain."

He is calling on people concerned about the funding cuts to inundate her office with phone calls and emails.

The governor's office can be reached at 503-378-4582 or via email at www.oregon.gov/gov/Pages/contact.aspx.

In a press release, Brown listed projects and bills she intends to veto, including funding for the Holly Theater, ballpark improvements and the irrigation project.

"The cornerstone of all negotiations whether they occur in a public or private arena, is the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing," Brown said in a statement that immediately followed the listing of the three Medford area projects. "I believe each of these projects should be considered during the 2018 session to be evaluated on their merits."

Chris Pair, communications director for Brown, said Wednesday that she would make no additional comment about the three projects.

Esquivel said he believes the governor is taking revenge on him for agreeing to move the health care bill forward but later backing the initiative about insurance coverage for illegal immigrant children and abortion.

"I did what I was supposed to do," Esquivel said of his vote to move a health care bill out of the House. "Why would Republicans want to make any kind of deal and have cooperative efforts if Democrats are not going to follow through with what they promised?"

Jefferson Live!, which is managing the Holly Theatre restoration, issued a statement in response to news of the pending veto.

"We're disappointed that funding approved by the Oregon Legislature this year for the Holly Theatre restoration may be vetoed by the Governor," the statement said. "The Holly Theatre is a project that will have a strong economic impact for Medford and Southern Oregon, bringing jobs and economic vitality to the region while enhancing the cultural opportunities of citizens. We appreciate the past support of the Oregon Legislature and the Governor and are gratified that Governor Brown has invited a funding proposal for the Holly Theatre during the 2018 legislative session."

Jefferson Live! is planning a Thursday event to honor backers and donors, including celebrity Jim Belushi. It will also make an announcement "regarding the restoration's current progress and expected timeline," according to a press release.

When asked, Executive Director Randy McKay did not provide further specifics about whether the Thursday announcement will be related to the veto.

Once restored, the 1930 movie theater will become a venue for live concerts, films and other events. With 1,003 seats, it will become the largest indoor venue between Eugene and Redding, California, and will generate $3 million in additional spending for the Rogue Valley economy each year, backers say. 

In July, McKay estimated restoration costs at $5 million.

The Medford Rogues baseball team, which plays at Harry & David Field at U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford, declined to comment about the pending veto of funding for stadium improvements.

The money could have helped finance roofing over the stadium seats to shelter fans from the sun. The roofing project was still in the concept stage, without an official overall price estimate.

Using money from the state plus $3.7 million in federal funding, the Rogue River Valley Irrigation District hoped to run irrigation ditch water through an underground pressurized pipe.

Unlike pipes, irrigation ditches lose water to seepage and evaporation. Piping aids water conservation efforts and allows irrigation water supplies to stretch further.

The three projects under veto threat won praise from both Republican and Democratic legislators from the Rogue Valley in early July, when the Oregon legislative session closed for 2017 and local residents thought the money had been secured.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

The Holly Theater will lose $1 million because of Gov. Kate Brown's line-item veto of a spending bill. [Mail Tribune file photo]