Topeka In defiance of the Legislature, Gov. Sam Brownback's administration Tuesday laid off the employees of the Kansas Arts Commission.
Earlier in the legislative session, Brownback proposed abolishing the commission, but the Legislature rejected the move after numerous Kansans voiced opposition to the proposal in protests, calls to legislators and testimony to committees.
Despite that, Brownback's secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration, Dennis Taylor, told the Arts Commission's interim director Chris Howell on Tuesday that all five commission employees would be placed on administrative leave immediately and terminated June 10.
Henry Schwaller, chairman of the Arts Commission, said he was "very surprised" by the action.
"This is a back-door move to eliminate the Arts Commission," Schwaller said.
He said the commission had funding through the end of the fiscal year. "We can't provide services now to the 290 arts organizations and artists," he said.
In addition, Schwaller noted that the Senate had voted to reject Brownback's executive order to abolish the commission, and House and Senate budget-writers had agreed on funding the agency at nearly $700,000 for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Brownback could have applied a line-item veto to that funding. But if he had, the Legislature then would have had the opportunity to override the veto.
Brownback had proposed eliminating the commission as a cost-cutting move and said a private group could raise funds for the arts.
On Tuesday, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, a spokeswoman for Brownback, said, "Gov. Brownback stands by his budget recommendation as the best way to cause the arts to flourish privately in Kansas while saving taxpayer dollars."
Schwaller said he would continue fighting to preserve the Arts Commission and urged supporters to contact Brownback and legislators. The 2011 legislative session is expected to end this week.
State Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, who led the effort in the Senate to overturn Brownback's executive order shutting down the commission, said Wednesday he was "very disappointed" in Brownback's layoffs of the commisison staff.
"There is no reason for this," Reitz said. "That's a real tragic statement for the state of Kansas," he said. He said eliminating the commission will cost the state thousands of jobs related to the arts.
Reitz said he would speak with Senate leaders to determine if there is any way to reverse Brownback's move.