When Gov. Sam Brownback visited with Journal-World staff members before the start of the current legislative session, he said he planned to revisit the issue of state funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, which he used a veto to cut out of the budget last year.
It was an encouraging sign, but it now appears that the steps the governor has proposed fall short of putting the Arts Commission back on even a marginally solid footing.
Brownback’s budget included $200,000, drawn from state gaming revenue, to fund the combined efforts of the Kansas Arts Commission and the Kansas Film Commission, both of which would be under the Department of Commerce. The Film Commission had previously received $110,000 in state funding, supposedly leaving only $90,000 for the Arts Commission. That’s far less than the $689,000 Brownback vetoed last year and falls far short of supporting the basic needs of the Arts Commission.
The most tangible loss the state suffered as a result of the governor’s veto was about $1.3 million from the National Endowment for the Arts. The national group determined that Kansas wasn’t eligible for matching funds because it no longer had a state-supported arts agency. In fact, Kansas is the only state in the nation in that situation.
The most important part of any action concerning the Kansas Arts Commission should be to restore the agency to the point it would qualify for federal funding — some of which was contributed by Kansas residents but now is going to other states. Brownback and his staff said last year that they believed the state still would be eligible for NEA funds despite the vetoed funding. It was not. The first thing the governor’s office should have done this year is find out what Kansas needed to do to requalify for federal funding. Senate President Steve Morris said last week that the governor’s funding proposal would not bring back the federal dollars, and the governor’s office has done nothing to dispute that claim.
Last week, the Kansas House approved legislation that would add an arts checkoff to the state income tax form. It would be one of five checkoffs competing for funding that has been declining overall for the last five years. That is not the answer. The state also plans to sell license plates to raise money for the arts, but as a representative of the independent Kansas Citizens for the Arts pointed out, license plates and tax checkoffs are fund-raising efforts, not public funding. It’s also worth considering how many Kansans will want to donate, either through a checkoff or license-plate purchase, to a state arts agency that is so underfunded that it lacks the organization to use those donations well.
The governor reportedly said in a press conference last week that he wants Kansas to be a center for prairie art. It’s not clear exactly what the governor has in mind, but his funding plan certainly will leave the Kansas arts community stranded in a no man’s land every bit as desolate as the most barren piece of Kansas prairie.