The death of funding for the arts in Kansas now promises to be blessedly short-lived. But the Legislature needs to do better than the scant $200,000 in arts funding for fiscal 2013 preferred by Gov. Sam Brownback, and stand behind the $700,000 approved by the Senate and agreed to by House negotiators.
The question is no longer whether Kansas is going to fund the arts. That’s now the plan, which should bring an end to Kansas’ embarrassing and damaging one-year status as the only state in the nation not to do so.
Over the objections of thousands of Kansans and the Legislature, Brownback had vetoed all $689,000 for the arts in the budget for the current year, leaving the 45-year-old state agency penniless and the state no longer eligible for $1.2 million in federal and regional matching funds.
But early this year, his administration announced plans for a Kansas Creative Industries Commission under the Department of Commerce, which would combine arts with the current Kansas Film Commission and operate on $200,000 in gambling proceeds from the Economic Development Initiatives Fund.
Some people still have reservations about the combined commission approach, preferring the state return to the free-standing state arts agency that proved so vital to seeding arts activities around the state.
But because similar commissions qualify other states for National Endowment for the Arts grants, the merged effort should work for Kansas as well. The remaining problem is Brownback’s proposed $200,000, given that the film office already gets $110,000.
The extra $500,000 in EDIF dollars in the Senate-passed budget plan would fund three additional staff positions, among other things.
As lawmakers work through the budget issues, they need to remember last year’s avalanche of e-mails and calls from Kansas arts lovers, and put enough money into a revived state arts office to make it meaningful.
Then they should stand up to the governor, if necessary. Asked recently about arts funding, Brownback didn’t indicate whether he’d accept the Legislature’s $700,000 in funding but said: “It just needs to be a responsible budget level.”
With the rest of the $14.1 billion budget and once-a-decade redistricting among the unresolved issues for the session, and with the state’s finances improving, another fight over the arts in unwarranted. The governor should agree with the Legislature on the $700,000, and then take a bow.