House Appropriations Committee backs Brownback plan to abolish Arts Commission

? The House budget committee Wednesday voted to support Gov. Sam Brownback’s move to abolish the Kansas Arts Commission.

A subcommittee sought to fund the Arts Commission at nearly $800,000, but the full Appropriations Committee rejected that on a 12-9 vote.

State Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, said she couldn’t vote to fund the commission while also cutting social services.

But state Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, a strong supporter of social services and the arts, said legislators shouldn’t pit two areas of funding against each other but vote on the merits of each program.

Brownback has issued an executive order to abolish the Arts Commission, transition its elimination through the Kansas State Historical Society and set up a nonprofit Kansas Arts Foundation to raise private funds. The order takes effect July 1 unless the Legislature rejects it.

But supporters of the Arts Commission have said its elimination will mean the loss of $1.2 million in matching grants. Both the National Endowment for the Arts and Mid-America Arts Alliance have told the state that they were unable to tell whether under Brownback’s proposal the state would still be eligible to draw matching funds.

The NEA questioned whether there would be appropriate oversight of funds if the duties of the state arts agency were transferred to the State Historical Society and the funding was passed through to a separate nonprofit entity with different staff, separate bylaws and a separate board.

During debate in the Appropriations Committee meeting, supporters of Brownback’s decision said with the state facing an estimated $492 million revenue shortfall, government had to focus on funding “needs” as opposed to “wants.”

But state Rep. Doug Gatewood, D-Columbus, said he was confused because many of those same legislators opposed his motion earlier in the week to cut in half a $5 million taxpayer-paid program to provide “affordable airfares” out of Wichita. A recent Legislative Post Audit showed “numerous inconsistencies and inaccuracies” in the way officials used data to tout the success of the airfares program.

“We need to maintain some consistency as we look at all these budgets,” Gatewood said.