Nine months after Gov. Sam Brownback put Kansas on the map as the only state to defund the arts, legislators are trying to figure out the best way to turn that decision back.
“The first step in all this is to get state funding back,” said Sarah Carkhuff Fizell, a spokeswoman for Kansas Citizens for the Arts.
Putting state dollars on the table will be key in luring back the $1.3 million in federal and regional matching funds that Kansas lost last year after Brownback vetoed arts funding, she said.
Last week, the Kansas House approved a bill that would allow Kansas taxpayers the option of adding a donation on their state income tax form to an arts checkoff fund. The Kansas Arts Commission, which still exists without public funding, also is wanting to sell special license plates for the arts.
But Fizell said: “The checkoff and license plates — those are fundraisers. They are not public funding for the arts.”
And it is unknown how much the arts checkoff would raise.
If enacted, the arts checkoff would join four others — for Meals on Wheels; Non-Game Wildlife, known as the Chickadee Checkoff; Breast Cancer; and Military Relief. Together, those four raised $415,511 last year.
But state tax experts have told legislators that when new checkoffs are added, the existing ones suffer. For example, in 2006, the Meals on Wheels checkoff received $219,000. But the next year, it received only $132,000 as two more checkoffs were added.
And the total for the existing checkoffs has also been decreasing over the past five years.
In addition, starting up the arts tax checkoff will cost the state approximately $88,000 for programming and testing to modify the automated tax system.
“I’m sure it would be helpful,” Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said of the checkoff, but added it would fall short of the level at which the arts has been funded in the past.
Facing political heat over his veto, at the start of the 2012 legislative session Brownback proposed merging the Kansas Arts Commission and the Kansas Film Commission under the Kansas Department of Commerce and providing $200,000 in funding from gaming revenues.
“I would hope we could support both those items and have a robust Kansas-centric program,” Brownback said at a news conference last week, adding he wants the state to be a center for prairie art.
But since the Film Commission was already funded at $110,000, Brownback’s plan would have provided just $90,000 for the Arts Commission side of the merger, a far cry from the $689,000 that he vetoed last year. Brownback said he vetoed the funding because the arts are not a core function of state government and shouldn’t receive tax dollars.
The National Endowment for the Arts said Brownback’s veto made Kansas ineligible for $1.3 million in arts support. Kansas never submitted its application for a partnership grant with the NEA.
Morris said Brownback’s funding proposal would not be enough to get back those federal arts dollars.
Fizell said many legislators are interested in funding the arts through increased use of gaming revenues that are deposited in the Economic Development Initiatives Fund and allocated into areas to improve the economy. She said this has proven successful in Colorado and could get Kansas back on track.
Those funding decisions will be made in the next few weeks as legislators continue to work on the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.