Arts budget boost dies in committee

Times Staff Writer

The latest bid to get California's semi-starved state arts-granting agency off its five-year subsistence diet has died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Backers said the bill would have secured $30 million or more each year for the California Arts Council, which has operated on $3 million to $5 million annual budgets since 2003 after peaking at $32 million in 2001.

Just $1 million now comes from the state's tax-fed general fund -- the minimum required to qualify for federal matching funds.

With California government facing a projected deficit of $14.5 billion, "it's just a bad year" for a funding increase, said Dana Mitchell, who worked on the bill as chief consultant to the Assembly committee that oversees the arts.

That committee approved the bill last spring, but it was tabled by the appropriations committee and expired under a law requiring held-over Assembly bills to be passed by Jan. 31 of the following year.

The proposal, introduced by Rep. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach), called for giving the arts council 20% of the sales taxes consumers pay on artworks, art supplies, musical instruments and audio recordings.

Without increasing taxes, it would have boosted California's 14 cents per capita arts spending, now last in the nation, close to the average of $1.21, as calculated by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

But Rep. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who chairs the appropriations committee and has championed increased arts funding in the past -- including his own defeated 2005 bill to feed the arts council with a 1% admission surcharge on movies, theme parks, performances and museums -- said that with "our general fund busted flat," he couldn't back a proposal to open a $30-million hole elsewhere in the budget.

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