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Monday, March 26, 2007

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NationalAssembly of State Arts Agencies

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

NEA Budget Proposal Would Streamline State Grants

Details of the President's FY2008 budget proposal made available by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) include a proposal to streamline the partnership grants to state arts agencies and regional arts organizations. Under the proposed budget plan, the entire 40 percent of NEA grantmaking funds for the state and regional partnership would be allocated to the accounts for basic plan support and underserved grants, consolidating the funds currently designated for Challenge America and American Masterpieces. According to the NEA's detailed budget document, this proposal "will permit greater flexibility for each state, provide an opportunity for greater strategic utilization of resources, and allow for greater self-determination" and enhance "administrative efficiency for the NEA and the state arts agencies."

The President's budget for the NEA asks Congress to increase appropriations by $4 million over the current year's funding of $124.4 million. Of the additional money, $2.288 million would be allocated to the arts endowment's grant making activities, resulting in an additional $915,000 going to grants for state arts agencies and regional arts organizations, for a total of $41.177 million in partnership grants. The arts endowment's administrative expenses account would receive the remaining $1.754 million of the $4 million increase requested by the Bush administration.

The administration's budget proposes reducing grants to organizations for artistic excellence and learning by almost $3 million, cutting slightly more than $2 million from Challenge America grants, and increasing support for American Masterpieces by $6.4 million. As explained in the budget document: "The largest impact on the public will be achieved by connecting American's to our Nation's literary heritage through the Big Read, the literary component of American Masterpieces."

NEA Chair Dana Gioia is scheduled to present the administration's budget at a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriation on March 20. The House subcommittee is expected to move its draft of the spending bill sometime in late May.

Rep. Dicks Calls Special Hearing on Arts Funding

In one of his first acts as chair of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Norm Dicks convened a special hearing on the arts and creativity as part of the March 13, Arts Advocacy Day activities on Capitol Hill. Dicks opened the session with the wry observation that the proceedings might be titled the First Sidney Yates Memorial Arts Advocacy Hearing, in reference to the annual hearings held by Yates when he chaired the subcommittee. Yates often gathered arts world celebrities in his hearing room to talk about the NEA and the value of public arts funding.

The witnesses at the March 13 hearing, most of whom had spoken earlier in the day at the Congressional Arts Breakfast, included Dr. Sheila Johnson, business executive, philanthropist, and co-founder of BET Television, spoke of the ability of the arts to reach children who might not otherwise succeed in school; Wynton Marsalis, musician and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, told the subcommittee of the power of the arts to bring society together through a shared culture; James Raisbeck, chairman of Raisbeck Engineering, an aeronautical firm in Seattle, and philanthropist to cultural organizations, talked about the role of corporate giving to the arts and the place of the arts in promoting America abroad; David Cicilline, mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, told the subcommittee of the major role of the arts as central to the economic redevelopment of the city; Chris Klein, actor, discussed the positive impact of providing children with opportunities to participate in the arts; and Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, outlined trends in giving to the arts.

In his opening remarks, Rep. Dicks explained that the NEA had been transformed since the early 1990s. He credited former NEA chair Bill Ivey with negotiating and implementing bipartisan reforms in the endowment's grantmaking operations, and current chair Dana Gioia for energizing the agency with new programs to reach beyond the nation's major cities. Dicks said there is "little opposition to NEA funding" in Congress, "except for members of the Flat Earth Society."

IRA Charitable Deduction Bill Introduced

Nonprofit arts organizations and other charities are encouraged by the introduction of legislation permanently extending a provision allowing taxpayers to make charitable contributions directly from an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) without having to count the distributions as taxable income. The Public Good IRA Rollover Act of 2007 (S.819/H.R.1419) introduced by Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Representatives Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) and Wally Herger (R-CA), would extend and broaden the current IRA charitable rollover that will expire at the end of this year.

The new bill will make the IRA rollover permanent, remove the present $100,000 annual limit on donations, and provide IRA owners with a planned giving option starting at age 59_. Currently, the IRA rollover permits an individual age 70_ and above to make tax-free charitable donations of up to $100,000 from an IRA. The President's 2008 budget request to Congress also proposes making the IRA rollover provision permanent.

According to the National Committee on Planned Giving, during the first four months the IRA rollover provision was in effect, Americans made more than $50 million in contributions to nonprofits through the IRA rollover.

Education Secretary Notes Arts Advocacy Day

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings issued the following statement on March 13 to mark the 2007 Arts Advocacy Day.

"The No Child Left Behind Act recognizes the important role that arts have in our schools for a well-rounded education.

The arts are a unique tool to stimulate and enrich learning. Not only do the arts encourage our children's imagination and creativity, but they can also teach lessons of history, math, and other subjects in a more memorable and profound way. The arts also, as President George W. Bush has said, "...allow us to explore new worlds and to view life from another perspective," a critically important skill for today's global economy.

Our education system is improving because of the concerns and involvement of so many who advocate for the arts. Leaders in states and local communities can and should ensure that the arts remain part of every student's education."

Keep abreast of current congressional news and federal legislative updates, and be sure to take advantage of NASAA's arts advocacy tools and services.