Many of you may know that I have been working closely with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts on several arts education projects not the least of which is the New Jersey Arts Education Census Project. I have a great deal of respect for the work of our Council and their commitment to arts education.
Funding for the Council, not unlike other states, has always been a delicate dance. Four years ago our Governor at the time (who now thumping his book) proposed eliminating all funding for the state arts council. This lead to a massive and well orchestrated advocacy effort. One of the results of this effort was the creation of a dedicated funding stream for the arts council that would provide a minimum funding level. When budgets got tight last year the Corzine Administration cut the funding for te council below what everyone thought was the funding floor.
This year’s budget failed to restore the funding for the cultural agencies. At the same time news report of our Governor's "gifts" to a former girlfriend have started to make headlines. The collision of these issues is represented in the cartoon below. The editorial from the Newark Star Ledger follows.
Don't betray arts groups
Thursday, March 08, 2007, Newark Star-Ledger
Once a deal was a deal — even in Trenton. Apparently, not anymore. It's a lesson members of the state's cultural community are learning, and it's costing them plenty.
Under Gov. Jon Corzine's proposed budget, the state Council on the Arts, the Historical Commission and the Cultural Trust get a $2.3 million increase from last year, bringing the total appropriation to $25.6 million.
Not bad except it's short of what the groups were promised or even what a reasonable reading of the law setting up dedicated funding would produce.
Four years ago, Gov. James McGreevey, facing a tight budget, eliminated all funding for the arts and cultural organizations. The resulting uproar led to a compromise that eventually restored much of the money. The groups then agreed to work for passage of a 5 percent tax on hotel and motel room rates, with a portion of the revenue dedicated to the arts.
The law says that in the first year, the arts and historical groups would get $16 million and be guaranteed more in following years, with $27.24 million being the minimum. It's all pretty clear until you read down three more paragraphs. Sophisticated bill writers slipped in a provision that says the minimum is what the 2004 budget allocated — just $16 million. So the law has two definitions of the minimum.
By the second standard, Corzine is actually being generous.
The arts groups argue they're being shortchanged $1.64 million, and they're right. Using two competing sections of the law to create confusion and, in the end, justify reneging on a promise isn't the way to conduct business. Neither is letting the groups campaign for the hotel tax and then not giving them what they expected.
The arts groups can be faulted for being too trusting — some might even call it naive. Imagine, they actually believed politicians would honor their promises. The legislators need to show that trust was not misplaced.
I can assure you that ArtPRIDE New Jersey (our statewide arts advocacy organization – of which I am a board member) and the other members of the arts community are not naive. We are optimists and hold out hope that our Governor and the members of our legislature will do the right thing. If any of our elected leaders are unsure of their position… all I can say is remember the spring of 2003, it's an election year, and the field has a great memory.