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Thursday, January 8, 2009

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

Congress to Convene in January for Funding, Stimulus Package Bills

After Congress adjourned on December 10 and before returning on January 6, work continued on development of an economic stimulus package and final appropriations legislation. NASAA and our advocacy colleagues are collaborating on identifying areas of possible interest for addressing the needs of the arts in the context of the economic stimulus legislation. This measure is expected to be passed by the House and Senate sometime by mid-February in time to be presented for signature by the new president.

Appropriations

The House and Senate plan to pass a multi-billion dollar stimulus package before Inauguration Day, and vote on an omnibus appropriations bill combining all 12 funding measures left uncompleted at the end of the 2008 legislative session. No votes were taken on any appropriations bills in the Senate; only one passed the House.

The Interior Appropriations Bill, including funds for the National Endowment for the Arts, never passed consideration by the committees in either chamber. However, in the House, the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), approved a draft of the money bill that would raise the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to $160 million in FY 2009 from the 2008 level of $144.7 million. In the Senate, the appropriations panel took no action at all on the Interior funding measure.

Prior to adjourning in October for elections campaigning, Congress passed a continuing resolution that carries funding for all federal agencies until March 6, 2009, including the arts funding at the 2008 level of $144.7 million. NASAA and our arts advocacy colleagues have been working to urge the Senate to agree to fund the NEA in the final FY 2009 measure as close as possible to the $160 million mark set by the House subcommittee.

Economic Stimulus Package: The Political Environment

President-elect Obama has notified Congress that he would like to have passed a five-pronged economic stimulus package soon after he is sworn into office. Since then, as many of you may know, the Obama transition team has continued to consult with the governors. The most recent conversations have focused on two items: identifying barriers to the distribution of federal funding to the states, and listing infrastructure projects ready for funding through the forthcoming economic stimulus initiative.

President-elect Obama has notified Congress that he would like to have passed a five-pronged economic stimulus package soon after he is sworn into office. According to a letter sent to sent to Democratic senators from the office of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Obama wants the stimulus package to focus on government spending and investment in energy, infrastructure, education, health care and "protecting the most vulnerable," with an emphasis on programs and projects that can be funded quickly and efficiently and create jobs. Congressional aides have indicated that funding would be included for public works projects, tax relief for the middle class, alternative energy programs and health care.

House and Senate Republican leaders have called on Congress to moderate the speed on development of the stimulus package, urging a series of hearings and at least one week of public review of the proposed stimulus legislation. Critics of the economic stimulus package, including some economists as well as members of Congress, agree with the need to inject federal spending into the national economy but are skeptical about the size and breadth of such a spending plan - what The Washington Post has called "a frenzy among interest groups eager to claim their share of the expanding stimulus pie." The Obama team is reported to be aware of the potential pitfalls and has developed a "screen" to focus on projects that "would quickly pump money into the sagging economy, fulfilling Obama's promise to create or preserve 2.5 million jobs by 2011."

NASAA and our colleague arts service organizations have been in communication with the Obama transition team with our recommendations for arts policy in this new environment. Our focus has been to urge support for improving the financial structures of arts organizations and the national cultural arts infrastructure of the nonprofit arts sector. We have emphasized the importance of a strong partnership between the states and the NEA as an efficient means of distributing federal assistance to support the arts throughout the country. We have underscored the value of federal arts education funding, not only through the NEA but through the U.S. Department of Education.

Economic Stimulus Package: The Components

The contents of the economic stimulus package remain unresolved, though it is clear that funds will be provided to promote employment opportunities and support improvements to the national infrastructure. Arts organizations and cultural facilities may find themselves the recipients of support under some combination of these provisions.

We have identified the federal assistance programs through which funding is most likely to be extended for relief in the economic stimulus package. One of our goals is to position arts organizations and activities to take advantage of funding potentially available through these avenues:

Arts organizations need to be included and explicitly identified as participants in these programs through an economic stimulus package. We are working with our colleagues to pursue that goal. Any assistance from your state government to urge the same would be extremely helpful. In addition, NASAA is working with our partners at Independent Sector to ensure that nonprofit organizations are included in the broader goals and objectives of a stimulus plan.

In the days ahead, if you are invited to identify additional arts programs worthy of support, we encourage you to highlight those that contribute significantly to job creation, work force development and community revitalization, and to reiterate that arts activities should also be eligible for support in the above four areas.

This is a rapidly evolving plan. Any support coming from your state to leadership in Washington, including to your congressional delegation, could be helpful. Please let NASAA know (contact Tom Birch) if you are contacted, or if you have questions or would like to discuss this further.

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