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Garofalo, Wagenius argue over Legacy funding of arts

A Republican proposal that would dedicate a portion of the 2008 Legacy constitutional amendment’s revenue to fund arts programming for Minnesota’s schoolchildren caused an unexpected fight in a House committee on Tuesday.

GOP Rep. Pat Garofalo, the bill’s chief author, would like roughly 40 percent of the amendment’s arts funding to go to schools, but disagreements on how the money would be tracked and implemented led to nasty words in the House Legacy Funding Committee.

About 20 percent of the Legacy Amendment’s funding goes to the arts, or an estimated $52 million in fiscal year 2013. Staff estimated that, under Garofalo’s proposal, each student in Minnesota would receive approximately $30 dollars more per year for arts education.

Garofalo, who leads the House Education Finance Committee, argued with DFL Reps. Jean Wagenius and Ryan Winkler about the effects of his bill. Their argument is one that lawmakers have repeated numerous times since voters approved the amendment.

The amendment’s language strictly prohibits using the legacy money to “supplant” existing state and local funding sources. But Winkler and Wagenius say that without adequate safeguards, Garofalo’s proposal would simply allow school districts to cut existing arts funding and use the Legacy money to backfill their budgets – contrary to the spirit of the legislation.

Wagenius repeatedly pressed Garofalo on whether he is attempting to backfill budgets with the Legacy funding, which Republicans tried to do last session with other dedicated funds to balance the state budget.

“I did not say that, and I’d like you to correct the record,” he told Wagenius.

The two went back and forth until Garofalo dismissed Wagenius’ final questions and turned to another testifier.

“When people attribute statements to me that I didn’t make, I get pissed,” Garofalo said after the meeting, referring to the heated exchange.

Garofalo also said he isn’t attempting to go against the amendment’s rules – only to provide better services at a cheaper price.

“This really is – this is about the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” Garofalo said after the meeting, because voters mandated the state to raise the money from sales taxes and spend it.

But, he said, there’s no current way to track how much state money in the K-12 Omnibus Finance Bill goes to arts funding in schools, because districts are given a lot of leeway in their budgets.

Winkler proposed establishing a special “arts” category of aid so that lawmakers could measure base funding – from both the state and local property taxes – to ensure that the Legacy money would add to, and not replace, existing revenue streams.

“I would have to see the legislation you’re designing,” Garofalo said, “but I don’t think that’s something I’d be inclined to support.”

The committee tabled the legislation for possible inclusion in an Omnibus Legacy Bill.

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