TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback pushed Kansas into a national debate over the scope of government by making his state the first to shut down its arts agency and eliminate funding for arts programs.
But Brownback predicted other states will follow Kansas' lead.
"This is a good trend," he said. "It's so that you focus your budget items in core areas more so than in areas that we can afford to pay for off the private side."
The chief executive officer of Americans for the Arts, based in Washington, said Brownback's decision last week to veto the Kansas Arts Commission budget goes against "a half-century understanding" in the U.S. that government has a role in promoting the arts. He also suggested the Republican governor's actions violate pledges from his campaign last year to improve the economy.
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"It's a huge outlier," said Robert Lynch, CEO of Americans for the Arts. "It's the only such decision made this year or in the past 50 years."
Some fiscal conservatives contend Americans, concerned about spending, are rethinking whether taxpayer dollars should support the arts. Alan Cobb, director of state operations for the small-government group Americans for Prosperity, said criticism of Brownback's actions is overheated.
"If this happened across the country, we will still have great art museums and symphony orchestras," Cobb said. "We can't do everything, so let's figure out what we really need to do, and what are we good at."
Proposals to eliminate state councils or dramatically cut funding have been pursued in several states, but Kansas is the first where such an effort has come to fruition.
Brownback has argued that the arts will still flourish in Kansas with private funding and that the state must set priorities in using limited tax dollars in tough financial times. "I'll be working to raise private monies for the arts in this state," he said.
Arts advocates have warned that eliminating the commission could cost the state as much as $1.2 million in federal funds.
They argued that Brownback's actions jeopardize several thousand jobs tied directly to arts programs and others supported by the spending of arts patrons.
"There is no comparable example of a state government walking away from supporting a public arts agency," said Jonathan Katz, chief executive officer of the Washington-based National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.