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Friday, February 12, 2010

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NationalAssembly of State Arts Agencies

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Legislative Update

2011 Budget Proposal Decreases NEA Funding

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

On February 1, the Obama administration released the president's budget for fiscal year 2011, which proposes to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts from the 2010 level of $167.5 million to $161.315 million in the coming year. The amount requested for 2011 is the same amount proposed by President Obama in his budget for 2010. The NEA's funding has grown in recent years by more than 35%--from $124.4 million in 2007 to $167.5 million in the current year.

According to available budget documents, the reduction in NEA funding would come from program grants, while support for the agency's salaries and expenses would increase slightly, by $1 million. At the same time as the president asks Congress for a reduction in appropriations to the NEA, the administration's budget proposes a new initiative to be implemented by the arts endowment: "Our Town, a uniquely arts-based program to strengthen communities through the arts."

In his State of the Union address to Congress in January, President Obama announced what we have been hearing for several months: the administration's budget for fiscal year 2011 would call for freezing domestic discretionary spending at current levels for three years. After that, beginning in fiscal year 2014, the budget will propose increases at the rate of inflation for domestic discretionary spending accounts.

It is important to recognize that while the overall total for spending is frozen in the Obama budget, not all discretionary domestic spending would be held to the 2010 levels, and Congress will be making the decisions within the total discretionary spending pool. With the prospect of a freeze, Congress is charged with setting priorities and deciding where to cut some programs in order to save others.

The freeze, which is expected to save $15 billion in 2011 and $250 billion over 10 years, would not apply to spending on the military, homeland security, veterans, or the State Department. In fact, domestic spending--while symbolic in efforts to cut spending and address deficit reduction--accounts for only about 15% of the federal budget. The other 85% consists of defense-related spending, interest on the national debt, and entitlement programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and food stamps.

In other programs in the 2011 budget, the Obama administration would eliminate the $40 million currently allocated to the U.S. Department of Education for arts in education grants. The budget would combine those funds with others in the department's Office of Innovation and Improvement to create a pool of funds at $6.33 billion for grants to support "Innovation and Instructional Teams." The new initiative would include support to local education agencies or to nonprofit organizations in consortium with schools to "develop and expand innovative strategies and practices that have been shown to be effective in improving educational outcomes for students."

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