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Thursday, July 5, 2007

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

House Votes Major Arts Fund Increase

Legislation moving forward in the House and Senate would at this stage in the process provide for the first time in many years significant increases in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The House of Representatives on June 27 voted approval of an increase of $35.6 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), setting a proposed budget for the NEA at $160 million in the passage of the Fiscal 2008 Interior Appropriations Bill, and defeating three amendments targeted at cutting or eliminating funds for the arts endowment.

The last time Congress approved an arts funding increase of such magnitude was 1979, when the arts endowment's budget was raised by $26 million. Indeed, the mark in the House measure almost matches the level of $162 million in 1995, after which the NEA suffered a congressional funding cut of almost 40 percent. The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee chair, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) said at an earlier bill drafting session that the additional NEA funds are "to help these programs to recover from deep cuts made over the last decade."

Floor debate on the bill's provisions stretched over two days and late into the evenings, as the champions of federal arts funding, led by Dicks made the case repeatedly for the value of the public investment in the arts. Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Christopher Shays (R-CT), co-chairs of the Congressional Arts Caucus, joined in support of the NEA funding increase, citing the value of the arts as "a personally enriching experience," as "engines of job development and economic growth," and "important for the education of our children."

Dicks noted that the NEA "has been transformed since the arts funding debate of the 1990s," crediting former NEA Chair Bill Ivey with restoring congressional confidence in the agency's public purpose, and current Chair Dana Gioia with energizing the agency with new programs and "a commitment to reach beyond the cultural centers of our major cities."

Amendments offered on the House floor by Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), and Doug Lamborn (R-CO) each threatened to cut the arts funding proposed in the bill approved by the Appropriations Committee.

The opponents of the federal arts spending were careful to point out, as Lamborn said, that "opposition to the NEA should not be perceived as opposition to the arts." Their arguments focused on the need for spending restraint and a focus on other budget priorities. Dicks pointed out that the $160 million provided in the bill "only partially restores cuts made...a decade ago" and that with inflation, the amount in the bill "is $100 million below the level provided in 1993."

Bishop's amendment, which aimed at cutting NEA funds to the level of $128 million proposed in the President's FY08 budget and redistributing the money to border crossing enforcement, failed by a vote of 156 ayes to 270 noes. Brown-Waite's amendment to cut the arts endowment's funding by the same amount without any redistribution, lost by a vote of 137 and 285. Lamborn's amendment to eliminate entirely the NEA funding lost, 97 to 335.

Action now shifts to the Senate, where the Appropriations Committee on June 21 approved its version of the Interior funding bill with a more modest increase of $9 million over the 2007 level of $124 million for the NEA in FY08. While the Senate arts funding increase is less than that written into the bill passed by the House, the action taken in drafting the bills in the Senate as well as in the House represents a firm recognition of the importance of bringing the NEA back toward the funding level of a decade ago before deep cuts were made in the arts budget. The President has already threatened to veto any spending bill which does not adhere to his proposed budget levels.

Arts Education Funding Moves Forward

In another first, the House appropriations subcommittee responsible for education funding voted on June 7 to fund the Arts in Education program at the U.S. Department of Education at $39 million in the FY 2008 spending bill, adding $3.7 million over last year's funding level.

As in each of the past seven years, the President zeroed out the program in his budget proposal this year. Typically, the House has gone along with the Administration's requested action, and the funding has been saved each year by the Senate. For the first time, the House subcommittee, now chaired by Rep. David Obey (D-WI), has rejected the President's request and voted to fund the arts education grants. The action coming through the House ensures a stronger position for the program as the bill moves through the appropriations process.

The Department of Education's Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Program supports schools and arts organizations in developing comprehensive approaches to integrating arts instruction into the core curriculum in elementary and middle schools. Grants have gone to both local education agencies and state and local arts organizations. Previous grants have included awards to state arts agencies.

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