California state capitol

California state capitol in Sacramento. The state no longer will be last in the nation in per capita funding for its arts grant-making agency. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

The $2 million budget boost for the California Arts Council likely will allow the Golden State to shed its dubious distinction as the nation’s stingiest state for arts-grant funding for just the second time since 2003.

The additional money that Assembly Speaker John Perez funneled to the Arts Council on Monday, using a discretionary account that was at his sole disposal, boosts its total funding to $7.024 million for the just-begun 2013-14 fiscal year.

That’s 18.5 cents each for about 38 million Californians – up from 14 cents in 2012-13. The increase should be enough to lift California past Kansas and Georgia, which placed 47th and 48th, respectively, in the 2012-13 rankings.

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Texas, which had finished 49th, has nearly doubled its arts appropriation for the new fiscal year, making up for cuts during the recession, according to a recent report by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). That brings the Lone Star state’s per capita arts funding to nearly 25 cents.

Kansas claimed last place by default in 2011 when it eliminated its arts agency, giving California a brief reprieve from the cellar. A $700,000 appropriation in 2012 put the Jayhawk state back in the arts-grant game at 24 cents per capita. But the recently passed state budget provides just $200,000 for arts funding, or 7 cents per resident. NASAA said that may be augmented somewhat by money left over from the previous year. However, it appears unlikely that would be enough to beat California.

Georgia’s arts funding now comes to 13 cents per capita, using NASAA's figure for the state’s own slightly increased appropriation and separate statistics for decreased federal support because of the impact of budget sequestration in Washington on the National Endowment for the Arts’  annual grants to state arts agencies.

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In 2012, Georgia officials approved a special arts license plate akin to the one in California, where motorists voluntarily pay $40 or $50 extra for a special plate design, with the money going as a contribution to the California Arts Council.  But Georgia's program has been slow to reach a minimum threshold it must pass before the plates can be manufactured, generating an extra $10 for the state's arts agency for each one sold.

California vehicle owners’ arts plate purchases and renewals are expected to generate $2.855 million this fiscal year.

Minnesota is projected to remain first in the nation by far at $6.50 per capita in the new fiscal year, up from $5.88 thanks to a 10.9% increase in the state’s appropriation. Hawaii, Maryland, New York and Wyoming are the other states budgeting at least $2 per capita for arts grants.

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