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Thursday, August 9, 2007

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

Arts Funding Measures Await September Action
With Presidential veto threats hanging over at least half the appropriations bills moving through Congress this summer, and other legislative issues crowding the floor agenda in the House and Senate before the congressional August recess, Democratic leaders have been slowed in their efforts to move the annual spending bills through the legislature before the new fiscal year begins October 1. It seems likely that the Senate will not pass even a majority of the appropriations bills by the end of September, leaving Congress to deal with the annual appropriations assignment through an omnibus spending bill to send to the President. In view of Bush's veto threats, that package could contain other bills and provisions the President wants passed and would find difficult to veto. This could go on.

Fortunately for federal arts funding, the Interior Appropriations Bill has already passed the House with an increase of $35.6 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) approved by floor vote on June 27, setting a proposed budget for the NEA at $160 million. The President's budget proposed an increase of $4 million for the NEA for 2008.

In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee voted on June 21 to approve its version of the Fiscal 2008 Interior appropriations measure with an increase for the NEA of $9 million over the current year's funding of $124.4 million, falling short at $133.4 million from the House-approved level. Still, the Senate action represents an exceptional level of proposed increase for the NEA and a commitment to aim toward restoration of the arts endowment's funding level of a decade ago before budget cuts were suffered. In addition, the Senate number reflects the smaller overall funding allocation given to the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee for distribution among programs in its bill compared with the allocation to its House counterpart.

As with the arts spending, funds for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) would increase in both House and Senate bills. The legislation passed by the House raises the NEH budget to $145.5 million in 2008 over current funding of $125.884. The Senate's bill proposes a smaller level of increase: to $131.845 million in the coming year.

Arts In Education Increase Set in House/Senate Bills, Museums Held Even
The appropriations legislation funding the Department of Education's arts in education grants and the Office of Museum Services has also passed the House floor and received approval by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill passed the House on July 19, including funds for arts education at $38.777 million, an increase proposed by Appropriations Committee chair Rep. David Obey (D-WI) of $3.5 million over the 2007 level, and a complete restoration of funds to the program recommended for elimination in the President's FY08 budget request. Significantly, for the first time since the program was authorized, the House voted to include funding for the arts in education grants over President Bush's proposal to zero out the funds.

In addition, the House bill includes money to support the National Center for Education Statistics Fast Response Survey System to collect data for the report of Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools during the 2008-2009 school year. The survey is intended to include national samples of elementary and secondary school principals, as well as surveys of elementary and secondary classroom teachers and arts specialists.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted on its education funding bill on June 21 with an increase of $1 million for arts in education proposed by Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) for a total of $36.277 million in 2008. As in the House bill, funds are included for the Fast Response Survey System report on arts education.

The same money bill makes appropriations for the Office of Museum Services, although neither the House nor the Senate measure includes the $8 million increase proposed by President Bush in his 2008 budget. The House approved a nominal increase of $395,000 over the current funding of $32 million. The bill also includes some $11.3 million in earmarks within the museum services budget which are listed in the House Committee's report, H. Rept. 110-231. The Senate's companion funding measure leaves the museum services grants level funded.

NASAA and Other Arts Advocates Urge House & Senate Support of Tax Measures
NASAA has joined with other arts service organizations in sending a letter to members of Congress urging their cosponsorship of two tax bills designed to benefit artists and arts organizations by promoting charitable giving.

The Artist-Museum Partnership Act, introduced in the House (H.R.1524) by Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) and in the Senate (S.548) by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Robert Bennett (R-UT), would extend to artists, writers, and composers a fair-market value charitable deduction for the contribution of their original works and manuscripts to museums, libraries, and archives.

The Public Good IRA Rollover Act (H.R.1419), introduced in the House by Reps. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) and Wally Herger (R-CA), and in the Senate (S.819) by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), would permit owners of Individual Retirement Accounts, age 70 1/2 or older, to make tax-free charitable gifts from their IRAs totaling up to $100,000 per year. Since August 2006, the provision for such contributions, which would expire at the end of 2007, has enabled Americans to contribute millions of dollars to many charitable organizations -- including arts institutions. The legislation would ensure that this valuable charitable giving incentive is extended before it expires.

Joining NASAA in signing the letter sent to all members of the House and Senate not yet cosponsoring the bills, were American Arts Alliance, Americans for the Arts, American Association of Museums, American Symphony Orchestra League, Association of Art Museum Directors, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Chamber Music America, Dance/USA, Literary Network, MENC: National Association for Music Education, National Alliance for Musical Theatre, National Council for the Traditional Arts, National Network for Folk Arts in Education, National Performance Network, OPERA America, and Theatre Communications Group.

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