Speaking to an auditorium full of arts advocates, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said the voter-approved Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment showed Minnesotans fundamentally “get it.”
What they get is that if they want something, they need to for pay it, she said, “and they are willing to make the investment that is called taxes.”
(Insert big applause here.)
Kelliher spoke as part of Arts Advocacy Day at the Capitol, an event organized by Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA). The Legislature faces huge questions over taxing and spending and budget deficits. In the middle of that debate, arts groups find themselves in a strange spot. The constitutional amendment provides new money for the arts at a time when other programs are getting whacked. The general fund arts budget, while small, becomes an inviting target for cuts.
Speeches, strategy — and meetings
The Arts Advocacy Day started with a training and rally at the Minnesota History Center. There were a few artistic flourishes, a banjo player in the entryway and a full-throated sing-a-long of “America the Beautiful” in the auditorium, but mostly it was two hours of speeches and strategy. Afterward, hundreds of advocates (ranging from representatives from the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts to the Northwest Minnesota Arts Council) went to the Capitol complex for individual meetings with legislators.
Also speaking at the event were: Sen. Richard Cohen, Finance Committee chair; Sen. David Tomassoni, chair of the Senate Economic Development and Housing Division; and Rep. Mary Murphy, chair of the House Cultural and Outdoor Resources Finance Division. All play key roles in deciding how state funding for the arts shakes out.
Among the handouts was a reminder that the language in the constitutional amendment said the new money, “must supplement traditional sources of funding for these purposes and may not be used as a substitute.”
Sheila Smith, executive director of MCA, said arts organizations realize the state is “in a terrible deficit pickle.” But that didn’t mean the arts had to take a disproportionate share of the general fund cuts.
The state provides approximately $10 million a year for arts, a tiny, tiny part of the state’s budget, she said. “Even if you wiped out our funding, it would do almost nothing to balance the budget.”
Rally organizers gave advocates two key messages to take to their meetings with legislators. First, the Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils should get at least 50 percent of the new sales tax money earmarked for arts and culture. Second: General-fund cuts to the arts should be limited to 10 percent, the average cut to all state agencies.
Both points run counter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recommendations, which include eliminating the State Arts Board and Regional Art Council system and deeper general fund cuts to the arts.
Advocates got strong reassurance from Cohen. He said the State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils would get 50 percent of the new money. “As far as I am concerned as chair of the finance committee, there is no argument about that,” he said. “This is what we worked for. This is what we dreamed of. This is why we killed ourselves. This is what the promise was to the voters of Minnesota.”
Murphy talked about her committee, which oversees the spending of the new dedicated sales tax money. The constitutional amendment created four separate funds (outdoor heritage, clean water; parks and trails; and arts and cultural heritage.)
“A lot of people want to use the money for some jobs and community development,” she said. “We could use the art money for that. Artists need jobs.” (More applause.)
The committee also is discussing outcomes. “No one is getting money if they don’t have goals, priorities and outcomes that we can understand and that every person in the state can understand as they look at the website,” Murphy said.
Kelliher told advocates that the Legislature was “a very sober place right now.” They could expect some push-back from legislators who have been hearing from constituents.
“You can find empathy with the members of the House and Senate who are very worried about the future of the state, where there is not constitutionally dedicated money to help,” she said.
Arts should get a significant boost. The estimated revenue for the arts and culture portion of the new sales tax is estimated at $47 million, MCA’s Smith said. (It’s a soft number, and could go down in the new budget forecast.)
If the State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils received 50 percent, that would be $23.5 million, or more than double the current state appropriation.