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Friday, March 4, 2011

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Legislative Update

House Cuts NEA 2011 Funds, Action Moves to Senate; Obama Asks for NEA Cut in 2012

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate continue to negotiate funding for the 2011 fiscal year. The first week in March, both chambers passed another short-term continuing resolution to extend funding for the current fiscal year until March 18. This measure, essentially continuing appropriations at the 2010 levels, includes $4 billion in cuts demanded by the House from the current fiscal year's spending. While funds to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) are not touched in this short-term measure, the bill does zero out spending on the Department of Education's arts education program.

In the meantime, legislators need to come to final agreement on a continuing resolution actually reaching until the September 30 end of the 2011 fiscal year. The House has done its work on that score. On February 19, the House passed H.R. 1, the continuing resolution for funding the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. The bill passed on a near party-line vote, 235-189, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting in opposition. The funding measure, with more than $60 billion in cuts to current funding, would reduce 2011 appropriations for the NEA by $43.1 million from the 2010 level of $167.5 million, to $124.4 million for the remainder of the fiscal year. The Senate has not taken up the bill and continues to buy negotiating time with the passage of each short-term funding bill. With the two chambers differing significantly on funding levels, the task of reconciling the two bills into one is a complex assignment. Congress probably will pass yet another short-term funding resolution reaching to April 18 to gain even more negotiating time before arriving at the final agreement. Once done with 2011 funding, legislators on Capitol Hill will turn their attention to the 2012 budget proposed by President Obama on February 14.

Leading up to the debate in the House on the 2011 funding bill, amendments were offered to further reduce funding in the NEA's budget. One, sponsored by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), proposed a cut of $20.6 million from the appropriations, already down by $22.5 million in the level proposed by the House Appropriations Committee. Two other amendments to eliminate the agency's funding entirely—one introduced by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) and the other by Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL)—were withdrawn from consideration.

The Walberg amendment passed the House by a close vote (217-209), with 22 Republicans joining all but three of the Democrats in voting against the proposed cut of $20.6 million. Among Republicans who voted to hold back further reductions in arts funding were many of the GOP moderates whose past voting records on arts issues had earned them high marks—including Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), chair of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee—as well as eight members of the new freshman class of legislators and two others in their second term for whom no previous voting records existed.

The House Republican leadership ran into some internal squabbles before the bill even got to the floor for debate. A revolt broke out within the Republican caucus when a majority of its members refused to support the plan developed by the House Appropriations Committee to cut some $41 billion in 2011 spending. The committee chair, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), went back to the drawing board and produced a bill reaching the $100 billion in annualized cuts demanded by the Republican budget hawks. The new bill sent to the floor set the NEA funding at $145 million; Rogers initially had proposed taking the arts funding back to the 2009 level of $155 million.

Coincidental with the House debate on the 2011 budget, on February 14 President Obama sent to Congress his budget proposal for 2012. It also sets a cut in funding for the NEA, from the 2010 level of $167.5 million to $146.255 million. In each of the past two years, the Obama administration has requested funding for the NEA at $161.315 million. The funding level proposed in the administration's 2012 budget is close to the amount appropriated to the NEA in 2008 at $144.7 million.

At the same time as the president asks Congress for a reduction of $21.25 million in appropriations to the NEA, the administration's budget proposes to allocate $5 million for the Our Town initiative. With a break in precedent, the funds for the initiative are not subject to the requirement that 40% of grant-making funds be allocated to the state and regional arts organizations. The budget documents also indicate that the NEA plans to reduce arts education and Poetry Out Loud funds that state arts agencies currently receive on top of the 40% partnership allocation.

In the president's budget documents, the NEA is seeking statutory clarification regarding the allowed match for grants made by state arts agencies. The administration's intention is to "clarify that match must come from funds controlled and managed by the State and that funds from third parties not directly controlled and managed by the State are not eligible (such as subgrant match.)" The proposed clarifying language would allow states to match with appropriated funds, donated funds, trust funds and the like.

The administration's NEA budget document also seeks permission from Congress to develop criteria on the "waive of match" provision for states and regions. The administration explains that while states may seek a waiver authority, it does not appear to be the intent of the NEA's authorizing legislation "to allow waiver of match in perpetuity," and guidance is desirable as to the circumstances around the ability of states and regions to seek a waiver of match.

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