Obama’s arts budget plan goes beyond restoring ‘sequester’ cuts

President Obama details his budget proposal in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, D.C.
(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA)
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President Obama’s budget proposal for the coming fiscal year would boost federal arts spending 10% above where it stands at the moment, lifting it to $1.58 billion for the 2013-14 budget year that begins Oct. 1 and more than compensating for cuts from the “budget sequestration” bill that went into effect last month.

Those reductions sliced 5% across the board from three federal cultural grant-making agencies as well as the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, lowering their combined spending from $1.51 billion to about $1.44 billion for fiscal 2012-13.

The budget proposal Obama presented last week for 2013-14 would restore those cuts and provide an additional 4.5% increase above pre-sequestration funding.


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The president is recommending $154.5 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, 5.8% higher than their $146 million allowance before sequestration, in which they each took a $7.3 million hit.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services would fare less well; Obama proposed a $225.8-million budget -- up from the $220 million it gets under sequestration, but still 3% less than the pre-sequestration funding of $233 million.

The Smithsonian Institution took a $40-million cut under sequestration; the president’s $869-million proposal -- $711 million for operations and $158 million for construction and renovations -- is up 6% from its pre-sequestration level.

His $144-million proposal for the National Gallery of Art, including $23 million for renovations, would increase its budget nearly 11% from where it stood before sequestration.

The Kennedy Center would get $22.2 million for regular operations and $12 million for construction, an overall 7.5% decrease from its $37-million budget before sequestration.


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The arts advocacy group Americans for the Arts, which focuses primarily on funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, has called for a $155-million allocation that’s just a fraction more than what Obama wants. But Narrick Rome, its senior director of federal affairs and arts education, said the group is concerned about two other elements of the president’s budget proposal.

As in past budget proposals, Obama has called for capping income tax deductions for charitable donations at 28%, which would reduce deductions for individuals with taxable income above $200,000 and joint filers over $250,000.

Rome said capping deductions could diminish giving to nonprofit arts organizations and other causes. While Congress hasn’t gone along with the president’s deduction cap in the past, he said, it has become more focused on re-examining tax rules, which could bring “more intense” consideration of a deductions cap as officials seek ways to increase revenues.

Another area of concern, he said, is a grant program for Arts in Education, a program within the federal Department of Education that funds arts for the disabled and grants for arts teacher training.

Rome said funding for the program had fallen from $40 million to $26 million since 2011. Americans for the Arts is pushing for an increase to $30 million, and it opposes Obama’s proposal to consolidate it into a new umbrella program that would administer grants for health, financial literacy, foreign language and physical education instruction, as well as the arts.


The concern, Rome said, is that without its own identity, the arts component could become vulnerable to further cuts and a blurring of its focus.


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