Don't veto the arts

It’s hard to understand Gov. Sam Brownback’s continuing assault on the Kansas Arts Commission, including his administration’s action Tuesday terminating all five employees as of June 10. Can’t he take a hint? Or, as in this case, hear a message as loud as a marching band?

When Brownback issued an order in January to abolish the 45-year-old state agency, proposing to replace it with a private foundation that would get $200,000 for a year and eventually receive no state dollars, he badly underestimated the strength of support for the commission and state funding for the arts.

Kansans pushed back in 5,000 e-mails, letters and calls to the Legislature, persuading 24 state senators to vote in March to block his order eliminating the agency. The commission gained House support as well, when its budget negotiators agreed last week with the Senate plan to give $689,000 to the commission for fiscal 2012.

That seemingly left only one thing standing in the way of the commission’s survival — a Brownback veto of the arts funding once the 2012 budget clears the Legislature and reaches his desk.

After such an outpouring of public support for the agency, a veto seemed unlikely. Surely it would look tonedeaf, ideological, stubborn and even petty, given how comparatively few tax dollars could be saved.

Then Dennis Taylor, secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration, told the commission staffers Tuesday that they were out. “Given the lack of funding,” Taylor wrote in a letter, “the agency positions will be abolished resulting in total agency closure.”

Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Tuesday that “Gov. Brownback stands by his budget recommendation as the best way to cause the arts to flourish privately in Kansas while saving taxpayer dollars.”

Seriously? What’s with this defiance over the arts, especially now that lawmakers have found room for them in the 2012 budget?

If Brownback wasn’t moved by the potential impact on the hundreds of arts programs around the state that receive grants and assistance from the agency, he should have heeded the warnings that Kansas could lose $778,000 in federal funding and $400,000 in Mid-America Arts Alliance money by zeroing out state arts funding and eliminating the state agency.

Kansas’ new governor needs to step back and listen to Kansans, who’ve been trying to tell him that short-term budget problems don’t justify ending the state’s commitment to the Arts Commission and the arts.

— For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman