Governor Jerry Brown's New Budget Proposal Cuts State Funding for Arts

California Governor Jerry Brown's budget proposal for the 2015-16 year, published last Friday, January 9, is a step backward for the statewide arts community compared to last year’s budget bill, which gave state arts funding its first legislated—though modest—jump in over a decade.

Last spring, taxpayers in California invested six million dollars in the California Arts Council, helping fund nonprofit arts organizations and public school arts education; the year before that it was a mere one million.

Brown’s proposed budget gives the arts council just 1.1 million from the tax-fed general fund, a clear step down from last year’s budget. Victoria Bryan, Executive Director of the Arts Council for Long Beach, is disappointed, yet remains hopeful that supporters of the arts will continue to fight for more funding.

“Last year we were all very pleased that after considerable effort put into increasing the state budget for the arts that went to the arts council, but it was a one-time increase,” said Bryan. “Anytime that happens you know that you’re vulnerable to that not being in the budget again.”

According to Bryan, last year's six million dollar investment had moved California up about four places from being dead last in what each state spends on the arts. She said, “It’s shocking to me that in California, where we’re home to so much creative industry, that we’re down at the bottom of the list.”

According to the LA Times the proposed 1.1 million in state taxes to be allocated is part of a longstanding policy, dating back to the early 2000s, in which California governors have budgeted the bare minimum that’s needed to qualify for about $1 million in matching federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“It’s disappointing that it's this hard every year to have to fight this fight,” explained Bryan. “We're always likely to be guaranteed that one million in the state budget because that's what we need to tap into the federal matching funds, but we're going to have to really work very hard in advocacy to convince the governor, who ultimately has veto power on any line item to allow or disallow more money into the state budget.”

Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, who was quoted in the LA Times article as being on the forefront of last year’s effort to increase the tax-fed portion of the arts grant budget, explained that the “governor is understandably wary of increasing spending despite growing tax coffers.” According to the article, Brown’s new proposal asks for a 4.9% increase in general fund spending, much of which has to do with education.

Bryan explained, “As for what it means in Long Beach, certainly any time funds are cut at the state level there's basically less money for which we're able to apply for with grants. Long Beach organizations don't get a tremendous amount of actual funding support from the state, but we do get some, not just the council but other arts organizations within our community. So yes, it definitely affects us.”

Currently, for example, the Arts Council for Long Beach has received a modest grant from the California Arts Council for arts education this year. If their budget is lowered, that’s less money available for the program. And while, since the recession, grant dollars have been stretched further and further across organizations looking for support, Bryan is adamant that advocacy organizations will continue to push for more funding for the arts.

“I get a real sense of determination from both advocacy organizations and other arts leaders to just continue that fight, to just keep hammering away to continue to get as many people as possible behind this in advocacy to demonstrate to the government that this is a really important issue not only for the arts and artists but really for the whole of California,” Bryan said.

If Brown’s budget proposal were approved, the arts council budget would total 4.9 million, including 1.1 million in federal matching funds and 2.2 million in license plate distributions. Brown also noted in his written introduction to his spending plan that, “Over the next four years - and beyond - we must dedicate ourselves to making what we have done work, to seeing that the massive changes in education, healthcare, public safety and environment are actually implemented and endure,” along with stating that the financial promises made by the state must be properly accounted for and funded.

Bryan concluded, “It'll be up to the advocacy group who will help coordinate the effort, it will be up to all of us at the end, to play our individual parts writing letters and letting our representatives know that we care about this, this is exactly what happened last year.”

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