Topeka — Supporters of the Kansas Arts Commission said Wednesday they would try to overturn Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to eliminate the agency.
“There is no reason for this,” said Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan. “That's a real tragic statement for the state of Kansas,” he said.
On Tuesday, Brownback’s Kansas Department of Administration Secretary Dennis Taylor had layoff notices issued to KAC employees.
Earlier in the legislative session, Brownback issued an executive order to abolish the commission and put arts fund-raising in the hands of a non-profit group. He said the elimination of the commission would save the state money.
But after an outpouring of opposition, the Senate rejected the executive order. And House and Senate budget negotiators had agreed on funding the agency at $670,000.
Brownback then implemented the layoffs.
He has refused to comment on the layoffs, but his spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag 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.”
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka disagreed, saying, “I believe this is a step backwards.”
Hensley said thousands of arts-related jobs will be jeopardized, and many rural communities will lose arts programs. Supporters of the commission say its abolition would also hinder the flow of federal arts dollars to Kansas.
“I’m pretty sure there is still some fight left in the Senate and the senators who support the arts commission,” Hensley said.
But the Legislature’s options are limited. If legislators approve funding of the commission, Brownback could line-item veto the funding. Overriding a veto would require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, the state’s poet laureate, blogged that when she read what Brownback did, “I felt like I was punched in the stomach. No process. No notice. No way, and yet it’s happening.”
She urged supporters to contact Brownback and legislators to try to overturn Brownback’s move.