Republican Governors Use Budget Woes To Wage War On The Arts

After Republican proposals to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities died in Congress this year, it might have seemed like there was a momentary lull in the fight over public funding for the arts. But at the state level, Republican governors and Republican-dominated legislatures are using difficult economic times as an excuse to slash the budgets of arts agencies and public broadcasters, or to try to eliminate them entirely.

In five states, Republican governors or legislatures have proposed either dismantling arts agencies or entirely eliminating some of their funding streams:

KANSAS: The most pitched battles are in Kansas, where in February, Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive order dismantling the Kansas Arts Commission to make way for its replacement by a privately-funded group. That move meant Kansas will likely lose $778,200 from the National Endowment for the Arts and $437,767 in funding from the Mid-American Arts Alliance. Both organizations require states to support the arts before they’ll kick in funding. The Kansas legislature pushed back, overriding the executive order and approving $700,000 to fund the agency, but on May 10, Brownback told the entire staff of the Commission that their jobs would be eliminated in June. He has suggested he will veto the legislature’s appropriation when the budget arrives on his desk, a move that will have the same effect as the executive order.

Brownback may also line-item veto $1.5 million in state funding for public broadcasting, though the budget the legislature approved last Friday produces a $50 million surplus even with arts and broadcasting funding included.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Gov. Nikki Haley said in her State of the State address in January that “the role of South Carolina’s government in the year 2011 can no longer be to fund an Arts Commission that costs us $2.5 million. … When you release government from the things it should not be responsible for, you allow the private sector to be more creative and cost efficient.” State lawmakers essentially ignored her requests, moving forward budgets with a 6 percent funding cut and amendments that require the Commission to spend most of its funding to provide grants. Haley reaffirmed her desire to eliminate state funding for the Commission in April, raising the prospect that she will line-item veto funding for the Arts Commission and South Carolina’s educational television program, which she also targeted in her January address.

ARIZONA: Gov. Jan Brewer entirely eliminated funding for the Arizona Commission on the Arts’ general fund, though the agency still gets some money through its Trust Fund, which is supported by businesses filing fees in the state.

FLORIDA: Gov. Rick Scott initially proposed keeping the Division of Cultural Affairs alive, but declined to fund its grant programs; the state legislature sent him a budget with $2.5 million in grant funding. Scott’s still considering line-item vetoes to trim the budget further.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: The Republican-dominated House of Representatives moved to dissolve the state’s Department of Cultural Resources in March, but the Senate Finance Committee has stood behind the Department’s continued existence, though it has proposed $530,000 in cuts.

The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, which has been tracking proposals to eliminate or reorganize the organizations it represents, is also following proposals in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin to cut state arts funding by between 30 and 80 percent.

And state-level public broadcasting also remains vulnerable:

VIRGINIA: Gov. Bob McDonnell used a line-item veto to eliminate $424,000 in funding for public broadcasters to develop educational materials for the state’s public schools, efforts he said were “not core services of government.”

MAINE: Last week, Gov. Paul LePage proposed cutting all state funding for the Main Public Broadcasting Network.

NEW JERSEY: In December, Gov. Chris Christie moved to privatize the formerly public New Jersey Network—WNET, another public television outlet, may acquire NJN.

The sums of money involved in these fights are minuscule: at $11 million, New Jersey’s subsidy to the New Jersey Network is the largest appropriation at stake. Cutting funds for arts agencies and public broadcasters won’t balance state budgets. But it does give Republicans an excuse to strike a blow in the culture wars that it will be very hard for arts organizations to recover from.

ThinkProgress / By Alyssa Rosenberg

Posted at May 19, 2011, 7:41am

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