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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

Congress Moves Economic Stimulus Package with Funding for the Arts

The House of Representatives on Wednesday, January 28, passed economic stimulus legislation - H.R.1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - with tax breaks and spending totaling $819 billion. The package includes $50 million allocated for the National Endowment for the Arts (in addition to its annual appropriations) specifically to preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector, which has been threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support, with 40% of the amount going to state arts agencies and the remainder going out in grants from the NEA.

The Senate began debate the first week in February on its draft of the stimulus bill, which does not include the arts funding. Congress hopes to deliver an economic stimulus bill to President Barack Obama by February 13, when legislators are scheduled to begin the Presidents' Day recess.

NASAA and our advocacy colleagues have urged Congress to retain the funds for the NEA, stressing the valuable role of the arts in stimulating state economies. While the NEA funds appear secure in the House bill, our advocacy efforts continue to ensure the arts allocation is included in the Senate's version of the stimulus measure as it takes shape, as well as in the final version of the legislation, to be agreed upon by both House and Senate before going to the president for signing.

In the days leading up to the House floor debate on the bill, the arts funding was singled out by critics of the legislation as an example of needless spending. When the measure came to the House floor on Wednesday, Rep. David Obey (D-WI), chair of the Appropriations Committee and floor manager for the bill, asserted that such claims caused the debate to become "incredibly trivialized." Obey pointed to the economic significance of the arts sector: "People in the arts field are losing their jobs just like anybody else. . . . This is a small, tiny effort to keep some of those people employed over the next two years. I make no apology for it. We have an obligation to salvage as many jobs as we can regardless of the fields in which people work."

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and sponsor of the arts funding in the stimulus package, joined Obey in defending the NEA funds. He cited the arts community as a tremendous cultural resource which "also serves to create jobs in local communities all across our nation."

Overall, the stimulus proposal would provide funding for education and health care programs, assistance to workers for job training and unemployment benefits, transportation infrastructure, help to states with Medicaid costs, energy spending, science and technology-related programs, and state and local law enforcement funding.

The specifics of the proposal announced by the Democratic leaders in the House include an unusual statement of accountability attached to the measure, referred to as "a historic level of transparency." Among the safeguards, the measure states: "Public notification of funding must include a description of the investment funded, the purpose, the total cost and why the activity should be funded with recovery dollars. Governors, mayors or others making funding decisions must personally certify that the investment has been fully vetted and is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. This will also be placed on the recovery website. . . . There are no earmarks in this package."

Artists' Charitable Deduction Back on the Agenda

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) intend to reintroduce the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, which would allow artists to take a charitable deduction for the fair-market value of their own works donated to museums, libraries, archives and other nonprofit collecting and exhibiting institutions. It would encourage gifts of visual art such as paintings and sculptures, as well as original manuscripts and supporting material created by composers, authors, and choreographers.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who sponsored the identical bill in the House of Representatives in the last Congress, also plans to reintroduce the measure this year.

During his election campaign, President Obama said that he would sign such legislation once it passed Congress.

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