Mass Legislature Cuts $1.5 M from Cultural Council Budget; Tax Revenues to Decline

There is a direct, measurable connection between cultural activity and  generating tax revenues through employment, tourism and the service economy.

There is a direct, measurable connection between cultural activity and generating tax revenues through employment, tourism and the service economy.

Bad Fiscal Move: House Committee Proposes $1.5 M Cut
to Arts, Humanities & Sciences in FY14 Budget for MCC

by Larry Murray

The state’s cultural commitment has been reduced from $9.6 million to $8.1 million for the next fiscal year. We should not be surprised at the drastic cuts proposed by the House Ways and Means committee, it is after all chaired by Brian S. Dempsey (D) Haverhill and co-chaired by Stephen Kulik (D) Worthington with Assistant Vice Chair Cheryl A. Coakley-Rivera (d) Springfield. Clearly they don’t get the connection between culture and the state’s economy. They may think they are doing the work of the Tea Party activists by cutting “costs” but in reality, they are simply cutting the state’s own revenue streams.

It is likely that they do not get the connection between cultural tourism and the tax revenues generated by it. That’s something that is very clear to those of us who live in the Berkshires. We can see it with our own eyes. We see out of state cars filling up with gas near Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow and Mass MoCA. We sometimes fight the lines at restaurants, and watch the no-vacancy signs get hung out on local lodging options. What’s remarkable is the depth of the impact. Employment goes up, and not just for actors, musicians and visual artists, but for carpenters, electricians, accountants and yes, even physical therapists (for dance injuries.)

Granted, the amount allocated to the arts in Massachusetts is paltry. But one thing that has helped us through this difficult financial period is how robust this economic generator has been through the slowdown in the economy. The arts are a growth industry. You can’t outsource live theatre, music or dance. Another $1.5 million dollar cut? Let us hope the Great and General Court reverses this regressive move.

About the Cuts, the Legislative Process

But the reality is that the House Committee on Ways and Means released a state budget proposal for the coming fiscal year today that recommends $8.1 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC).

If approved, this would represent a significant budget cut of nearly $1.5 million—or 15 percent—that would force cuts to grants that support thousands of public programs in the arts, sciences, and humanities across Massachusetts. The cuts proposed by the Ways & Means Committee are on top of a one-percent, mid-year cut to MCC’s state appropriation that the Legislature approved earlier this year, and reduced support from the National Endowment for the Arts in the coming year.

When you do this, you reduce the ability of cultural organizations to do the outreach that not only makes the arts available to even the poorest in the state, but the promotion which brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Commonwealth and their purchases of taxable hotel rooms, meals and gasoline. Sometimes I think the legislature simply does not understand the relationship between ticket sales to Tanglewood or the Clark Art Museum and occupancy rates.

State support for MCC is already less than half of what it was a decade ago, even as the nonprofit cultural sector that it supports continues to struggle with a prolonged economic downturn that has eroded philanthropic support from all sources.

What you can do

MCC and its allies in the House of Representatives will now work to pass an amendment to restore cultural funding. Amendments are due this Friday, April 15. The full House will break for April vacation and take up the FY14 state budget during the week of April 22.

We need to get to work and send a clear message to our representatives by Friday, April 12. An amendment is in the works but won’t happen without voters making their wishes knowm.

Since this article first appeared, more than 1500 of you sent a message to your representative telling them that the $1.5 million cut in the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s budget is unacceptable.

As a result, as of late Friday, 98 Representatives (out of  150) have listened and joined Representative Cory Atkins to call on the House Leadership to increase the state’s investment in the Commonwealth’s creative community. (See list at bottom of article for an early list of co-sponsors.)

Send an email

Click here today to send an email to your representative urging him/her to co-sponsor Representative Atkins’ amendment to restore $4.5 million in the Massachusetts Cultural Council budget.

Where the funding should be

Many arts advocates think that the commitment to the cultural assets of the Commonwealth should be set at about $2 per year per capita, or $13.3 million in the coming year. Ten states allocate more than $2 per resident, led by Minnesota ($5.88), Hawaii ($4.19) and Wyoming ($3.57). COnsidering the rich cultural life in Massachusetts and its contribution to the local economy, this can be justified.

“State support for arts and culture returns dividends to the Commonwealth through more jobs in the creative economy, more vital communities, and a richer education for our children,” said Anita Walker, MCC Executive Director. “We should be restoring investment in this sector, not cutting it. We will work with MASSCreative and our allies in the cultural sector to ensure this vital funding is restored through the amendment process.”

The House Ways and Means budget is one key step in the annual state budget process. The Senate will release its own budget recommendations in May. The two chambers must then agree on a budget before sending it back to the Governor for final approval before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

See MCC’s Advocacy Action Center for updates on the amendment and for the latest data on the nonprofit cultural sector’s contributions to the Massachusetts economy and quality of life.

About the Massachusetts Cultural Council

The Massachusetts Cultural Council is a state agency that promotes excellence, access, education, and diversity in the arts, humanities, and sciences, to improve the quality of life for all Massachusetts residents and contribute to the vitality of our communities. MCC pursues this mission through a combination of grants, services, and advocacy for nonprofit cultural organizations, schools, communities, and artists. With state funding and an annual state partnership grant from the National Endowment from the Arts, MCC’s budget is $11.1 million for the current year.

Pres. Obama’s Budget up slightly for the National Endowment for the Arts

Under President Obama’s proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year, both Arts and Humanities Endowments would edge up a bit. In the budget released on Wednesday, the President would raise each endowment’s budgets by roughly $200,000, to $154.5-million for the coming fiscal year. 81 percent—about $125-million-goes to direct grants as well as $50 million to state and regional partnerships.

Under the federal spending cuts that took effect on March 1, known as the sequester, both endowments took budget reductions of $7-million, though Mr. Obama’s proposal does not reflect those cuts. It is unknown if those cuts will be changed as Congress returns to work.

Possible New Limit on Contributions

The President also stuck to his plan for a 28% limit on the combined financial benefit to taxpayers from charitable donations and mortgage deductions. The current limit is 39.6%. Of course, the budget has a long and steep climb ahead, as a gridlocked and dysfunctional Congress is barely able to do its job which is why the sequester went into effect.

Politics and the arts make strange bedfellows, but just about every government makes them part of their priorities, sometimes to lift up their populations, and sometimes to keep their own artists from emigrating elsewhere.

Sponsors of Amendment #548 to H.3400 (Restore Funding to Massachusetts Cultural Council)

Representatives Atkins of Concord, DiNatale of Fitchburg, Peake of Provincetown, Sciortino of Medford, Cariddi of North Adams, Vieira of Falmouth, Pignatelli of Lenox, Madden of Nantucket, Hecht of Watertown, Forry of Boston, Andrews of Orange, Fresolo of Worcester, McMurtry of Dedham, Kocot of Northampton, Dykema of Holliston, Kaufman of Lexington, Keenan of Salem, Puppolo of Springfield, Hill of Ipswich, Roy of Franklin, Ashe of Longmeadow, Benson of Lunenburg, Calter of Kingston, Cantwell of Marshfield, Binienda of Worcester, Brodeur of Melrose, Cutler of Duxbury, Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield, Garry of Dracut, Smizik of Brookline, Scibak of South Hadley, Timilty of Milton, Toomey of Cambridge, Turner of Dennis, Vega of Holyoke, Galvin of Canton, Garlick of Needham, Gordon of Bedford, Gregoire of Marlborough, Linsky of Natick, O’Day of West Boylston, Finn of West Springfield, Fox of Boston, Keefe of Worcester, Lewis of Winchester, Khan of Newton, Arciero of Westford, Walsh of Framingham, Walsh of Boston, Garballey of Arlington, Mark of Peru, Balser of Newton, Basile of Boston, Brady of Brockton, Decker of Cambridge, Canavan of Brockton, Heroux of Attleboro, Mannal of Barnstable, Stanley of Waltham, Zlotnik of Gardner, Cronin of Easton, Gobi of Spencer, Malia of Boston, Boldyga of Southwick, Coppinger of Boston, Rogers of Cambridge, Walsh of Lynn, Cabral of New Bedford, Chan of Quincy, Cusack of Braintree, Ehrlich of Marblehead, Ferrante of Gloucester, Honan of Boston, Rosa of Leominster, Sannicandro of Ashland, Fennell of Lynn, Hunt of Sandwich, Michlewitz of Boston, Nangle of Lowell, Naughton of Clinton, Provost of Somerville, Devers of Lawrence, Fernandes of Milford, Harrington of Groton, Dwyer of Woburn, Schmid of Westport, Rushing of Boston, Silvia of Fall River, Beaton of Shrewsbury, Conroy of Wayland, Wong of Saugus, Ayers of Quincy, Murphy of Weymouth, Sullivan of Fall River, Donato of Medford and Murphy of Lowell move to amend the bill in section 2, in item 0640-0300, by striking out the figures “5,082,439” and inserting in place thereof the figures “12,500,000”.

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