California’s new state budget reduces arts funding 7.6%

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Arts advocates who tried to throw a touchdown bomb in Sacramento this spring were sacked for a loss instead Friday as the California Legislature passed a $234-billion budget that cuts funding for the state’s arts grant-making agency 7.6%.

The budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year that begins July 1 includes $5.024 million for the California Arts Council -- $412,000 less than its current funding.

It’s a far cry from the $75 million in guaranteed annual funding that arts advocates had sought in a bill that got tabled last month in the state Assembly’s appropriations committee.


Under the new budget, the Arts Council will command about one dollar out of every $46,600 the state spends.

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It positions California to extend its hold on last place in the nation in per capita funding for its state arts agency. It has ranked 50th since 2003, except for a brief escape in 2011 when Kansas temporarily eliminated all arts funding.

The Arts Council’s budget comes to 14 cents for each of California’s approximately 38 million residents – one cent less, per capita, than Texas and two cents less than Georgia.

The budget now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, whose line-item veto power allows him to make further cuts but not to add funds. The Arts Council budget passed by the Legislature is what Brown had proposed.

Mary Beth Barber, spokeswoman for the Arts Council, said the $412,000 budget cut will have to come out of grant-making, because the reduction stems primarily from the Arts Council’s loss of a checkoff box on state income tax forms that taxpayers could use to make donations. The donations had been earmarked for grants alone.


Brad Erickson, board president of the advocacy group Californians for the Arts, said in an email Friday that, despite the outcome, efforts to boost arts funding during this year’s legislative session were not wasted.

“Messaging is a crucial first step in a long policy campaign,” he said, and “the feedback we’ve received from legislative staffs and lobbyists in Sacramento is that we have now effectively named the goal” – an amply funded Arts Council.

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Erickson said the next move will probably be an attempt to revive the bill that was tabled last month and bring it to a vote next year – an effort he thinks would require amending the guaranteed annual Arts Council funding to “a more modest amount” than the $75 million it calls for. That figure was intended to provide about $2 per capita in funding, which would have lifted California close to the top 10 nationally.

Under the newly approved budget, California taxpayers will provide 21% of the Arts Council’s funding – the $1.07 million coming from the state’s tax-fed general fund. The federal government will kick in $1.099 million, or 22% of the agency’s total. The bulk of the funding -- $2.855 million, or 57% – is voluntary donations from motorists who opt to pay $40 or $50 extra for special license plates.

The Arts Council devoted 55% of its funding to grants in 2011-12, the last year for which figures were immediately available. Salaries and benefits for its 17.5 staff positions accounted for 30% of its budget.


The share of the budget shouldered by California taxpayers will actually grow by $27,000. But that’s offset by the loss of the tax-form checkoff donations, and a $62,000 reduction in the Arts Council’s federal funding due to the effects of Washington’s “budget sequestration” policy.

Click here for the governor’s initial Arts Council budget proposal, which was revised somewhat in the budget bill that passed Friday.


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