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Friday, February 29, 2008

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NationalAssembly of State Arts Agencies

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

President Proposes Cut In Nea Spending For FY 2009

President Bush sent his fiscal year 2009 budget to Congress on February 4 with a spending cut of $16.3 million proposed for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) back to $128.4 million, the same budget level proposed by the President for fiscal 2008. The current year's funding level approved by Congress at $144.7 million for the NEA was signed into law by the President in December. The final appropriations measure only passed White House approval once Congress had agreed to meet the President's overall spending total, while setting appropriations to meet the priorities of the legislators, as in the case of the NEA.

With the arts endowment's funding up to the level of $144.7 million this year, the NEA is looking to award larger amounts in the basic direct grants, and to fund more grantees in its category of arts learning. The funds for American Masterpieces which more than doubled over the previous year to $13.3 million would see some $8 million dedicated this year to funding the Big Read initiative.

At the President's budget request of $128.4 million, direct grants would lose almost $10 million, Challenge America would decrease by just under $800,000, but the American Masterpieces program would remain funded at $13.3 million, the level set for the initiative in this year's budget at $144.7 million. Because the overall total for the endowment's program funds would decline in the President's budget request, the total amount in the proposed FY09 budget for state and regional partnerships would go down by $7.2 million.

As for other federal cultural agencies, the Bush administration's FY2009 budget leaves spending for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) at the 2008 level with virtually no cut in funds at $144 million. For the Office of Museum Services, the President has proposed an increase of $8 million to $38.5 million. As for the Department of Education's arts in education program, the Bush administration for the eighth year in a row requests zero funds. In the FY2008 funding measure, Congress appropriated $37.53 million for the arts in education grants.

President Bush's budget challenges the Democratic majority in Congress to identify its own spending priorities, and conceivably re-enact the budget politics played out in the year just ended when the President threatened to veto spending bills that might exceed his spending totals. Again, President Bush has vowed to veto spending bills that would go beyond his budget request for the next fiscal year.

Totaling $987.6 billion, an increase of 4.9 percent over the current year, the President's FY09 budget again asks Congress to increase defense spending, this time by nearly 8 percent, and allocates a budget increase of nearly 20 percent to homeland security, while essentially freezing overall spending for domestic programs. Bush has also threatened to veto fiscal year 2009 spending bills that do not cut in half the cost and number of projects earmarked by members of Congress for special funding.

Clearly in no mood to strike deals with the congressional Democrats in an election year, the President has set the stage to continue the dispute on how much the government should spend and where it should place its priorities for spending. Democrats might actually put off completing the annual spending bills until after the November election, when they hope a Democrat will be elected president. At that point they could fund the government with a continuing resolution carrying spending into the term of the next president, which will begin on January 20.

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