We don’t envy the budget-balancing act that now faces Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature. Dealing with a $450 million or $500 million budget deficit is no easy task.
Spending cuts are needed, but strong arguments are being made that abolishing the Kansas Arts Commission in order to save the state $600,000 next year isn’t the best choice.
Earlier this month, Brownback issued an executive order abolishing the Arts Commission and establishing the non-profit Kansas Arts Foundation. He even took the liberty of appointing a board of directors for the new organization. The executive order will take effect on July 1 unless it is rejected by a majority vote in either the Kansas Senate or the Kansas House.
The powerful House Appropriations Committee this week supported the governor’s plan, but at least some members of the Senate say that body may challenge the executive order.
Many arts supporters across the state are pushing that effort. Perhaps their strongest argument is the potential loss of up to $1.2 million in matching grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-American Arts Alliance. Although Brownback has said the new nonprofit still would be able to obtain those grants, the agencies giving out the money say they don’t know whether the state still would be eligible to draw matching funds. These matching funds are critical to arts in Kansas. At the very least, this question must be resolved before the state moves forward.
There are other factors to consider. If the Arts Commission is abolished, Kansas reportedly would be the only state without a state-funded arts agency. Brownback’s vision is that private donors will step up to replace state funding for the arts. However, arts agencies already depend heavily on private givers, and there is stiff competition for donor dollars.
Private donors may be able to take up the slack in some parts of the state, but that will be less likely in many rural areas. It’s ironic that Brownback is cutting off state arts funding at the same time he is proposing tax breaks and other efforts to try to reverse the loss of population in rural Kansas. Providing a quality of life that includes art, music and other cultural offerings seems essential to attracting more people to live in those areas.
There also is an issue of jobs. In the press release announcing his executive order, Brownback cited the state’s budget shortfall and the fact that 100,000 Kansas are unemployed. Yet, the Kansas Arts Commission contends that the state’s nonprofit arts and cultural sector, is a $153.5 million industry that supports 4,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
For those looking at the state’s bottom line, it’s also interesting to note that in the current fiscal year, state funding for the arts amounted to 29 cents per person.
Twenty-nine cents. The governor does not have an easy task. If you’re trying to trim the state budget, you have to start somewhere, but state officials should take a hard look at whether eliminating the Kansas Arts Commission actually will be a net gain for the state.