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Thursday, October 7, 2010

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Legislative Update

Congress Postpones Funding Decisions; Arts Advocates Eye Tax Bill

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

Congress Postpones Funding Decisions to a Lame Duck Session

The House and Senate returned from the August recess on September 14, and with just two weeks left before adjournment, there was little time—and even less political will—to accomplish much. As has happened in recent years, Congress did not finish with appropriations bills before the start of the new fiscal year. In fact, no appropriations were completed before the 2011 fiscal year began. Again, Congress had to pass a continuing resolution by September 30 in order to keep federal agencies funded in the new 2011 fiscal year beginning October 1.

As for funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee approved a bill before the August recess increasing the arts agency's funds to $170 million in fiscal year 2011—an increase of $3 million over the 2010 budget level and $9 million above the amount proposed by the Obama administration, which had requested a cut to $161 million. No action at all has happened in the Senate on the Interior money bill. That means any new funding, such as that proposed in the House bill for the NEA, will depend upon negotiations later this year between the House and Senate setting final funding levels for FY2011. Those decisions will be made after the November elections, when Congress is slated to return for a lame duck session.

Arts Advocates Set Sights on Tax Bill

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) has introduced legislation to extend for another year a variety of business and individual tax provisions that expired at the end of 2009. Included in the bill Baucus brought to the Senate floor before adjournment is a provision to extend the IRA rollover, which allows individuals to make charitable contributions from their retirement accounts without having to pay tax on the income earned from the invested funds. The provision has been especially helpful to larger charitable organizations in raising sizable contributions.

While the bill is now likely to be put on hold until Congress returns for the lame duck session, there is advocacy interest around including in the legislation the measure allowing artists a full fair-market value deduction for the charitable gifts of their own works to collecting and exhibiting institutions. NASAA is working with our arts advocacy colleagues to promote this outcome.

The extenders issue—which is separate from consideration of extending the Bush-era tax cuts—has been lingering all this year without action in the Senate or the House. On many of these issues, the House lately has taken the position of waiting for the Senate to act first. House members are tired of passing legislation that then fails in the Senate for the lack of 60 votes.

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