Arts key issue in $14.1 billion Kansas compromise budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas legislators were considering a compromise $14.1 billion budget plan Friday that could set up another confrontation with Gov. Sam Brownback over arts funding.

The proposed state spending blueprint for the fiscal year beginning July 1 includes $700,000 for a new Creative Industries Commission. The Republican governor proposed establishing the commission but recommended that the GOP-controlled Legislature give the program $200,000, which arts advocates considered inadequate.

Brownback has argued that arts programs should rely more heavily on private funds, and last year he vetoed the entire budget of the Arts Commission, making Kansas the only state to eliminate its arts funding. His decision generated national criticism and cost the state $1.3 million in funding from the federal government and a regional arts alliance.

The proposed budget being considered Friday was drafted by negotiators for the House and Senate, and it settles dozens of difference between the chambers on spending issues. The House planned to vote first on the compromise, followed by the Senate, and legislative leaders expected the measure to go to Brownback before lawmakers adjourned Friday for their annual spring break.

“There's been a lot of interest around the state in trying to make sure that Kansas is not the only state without an arts program,” said Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican.

The governor hasn't backed away from his position that arts programs should rely primarily on private funding so state tax dollars can be used for core government functions, Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said. Brownback has the power to veto individual budget items, but Jones-Sontag would only say that the governor would carefully review the arts provision.

The proposed budget deals with most of the spending issues facing state government during the next fiscal year. It would cut overall spending by 4.2 percent, or about $620 million, and leave the state with cash reserves of $523 million at the end of June 2013.

But the governor wants to overhaul the state's individual income tax code to lower top tax rates and eliminate income taxes for 191,000 businesses, and legislators haven't decided how much to cut taxes. Also, the compromise doesn't resolve some questions about funding for public schools, spending on social services, or pay raises and longevity bonuses for some state workers.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican, compared drafting the compromise to cleaning out a cluttered garage halfway. Legislators return from their spring break on April 25 to wrap up business for the year and should know the fate of the proposed arts funding by then.

The Senate pushed for the additional funding, while the House did not include it. Negotiators for the two chambers are still working on the final version of a bill to set up the Creative Industries Commission, which would merge the Arts Commission with the Film Services Commission.

The budget compromise would permit the Creative Industries Commission to hire three new staffers. Last year, Brownback vetoed not only $689,000 in funds for the Arts Commission, but a provision allowing it to keep its small staff.

Sarah Carkhuff Fizell, a spokeswoman for Kansas Citizens for the Arts, said arts advocates hope the new staff jobs will allow the Creative Industries Commission to draft a plan to regain federal funding by mid-2013.

Fizell said advocates remain concerned about a potential veto but are hopeful that Brownback won't eliminate the funding, noting that “he decided to restart the conversation.”

The proposed budget is Conference Committee Report on House Sub for SB 294. The bill creating the Creative Industries Commission is Senate Sub for HB 2454.

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