Thank you for funding the arts

The state’s budget cut art, but your tax dollars will fill the void for the next 25 years.

Like most organizations, the outlook for the arts is currently grim. When budgets fall short, programs are scaled down or cut, projects are postponed and staff is reduced. Small organizations stay afloat through donations, memberships and grants. But when the economy is bad, donations and membership fees fall shorter than expected. These organizations then turn to the state for more help. The Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Council provide a majority of funding, through grants, to arts organizations, artists and schools in Minnesota. In the past, the state has allocated the funding for this organization. For the 2009 fiscal year, the state provided $10.2 million. However, the state currently has a $4.8 billion deficit, and its 2009-10 fiscal year budget, which begins on July 1, proposes to cut the funding for the Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Council by about $3.3 million each year for the next two years until the funding reaches $0. Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposes to turn the previously state-funded organization into a private nonprofit. So who will help the arts now? You. With the new Legacy Amendment in place, the state sales tax will be increased by three-eights of one percent for the next 25 years, starting July 1. This means that instead of providing funds for arts, water, land/habit and parks/trails, the public will pay a majority of the money. Though the bill was widely accepted by most voters, what they might be unaware of is that this tax removes the legislative process that would normally decide how to prioritize these funds, how to increase them and how to plan for their distribution without wasting them. However, at least the money will be available, eventually. The tax money has to grow before it can be distributed, so for now, the arts will have to wait for help. The Legacy tax will be split four ways: Clean water and land/habitat will each receive 33 percent of the funds, parks and trails will receive 14.25 percent and arts and cultural heritage will receive 19.75 percent. It is estimated that the amendment would bring in about $238 million in the first year. For the arts that would provide around $47 million. At Arts Advocacy Day at the Capitol last month, Sen. Richard Cohen, Finance Committee chairman, said that he plans to make sure that the State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils would receive 50 percent of the new money from the arts and cultural heritage portion of the tax. If the organization were to receive 50 percent, it would actually double the funding for the organization in the 2010-11 fiscal year. As for the other half, little progress has been made as to how the funds would be distributed amongst arts organizations. The legacy amendment states that the money for the arts and cultural heritage tax âÄúmay be spent only for arts, arts education, arts access and to preserve MinnesotaâÄôs history and cultural heritage.âÄù While the arts will have to wait another year before seeing the Legacy tax come to their aid, the economic stimulus bill has given the National Endowment of the Arts $50 million to offer in increments of $25 and $50 thousand to small organizations that apply by April 1. More funds will be made available later to re-granting agencies like the Minnesota State Arts Board. With the help of promising funds from the Obama administration and the taxpayer, the arts will have the hope to attain further funding. As far as the stateâÄôs concern for the arts, well, sacrifices need to be made in a time of economic crisis. Ashley Goetz welcomes comments at [email protected].