Gov. Perry Proposes Eliminating the Texas Commission on the Arts

Facing a shortfall of at least $15 billion, Gov. Rick Perry has proposed completely eliminating the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Commission on the Arts as part of a plan to balance the state’s budget that was released after today’s State of the State speech. From the Austin-American Statesman:

Perry is proposing savings of almost $500 million, including more than $200 million from the sale of land and other state assets. He would entirely eliminate funding to four agencies, including the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Commission on the Arts, while consolidating dozens of others.

The proposal includes many other deep cuts, including slashing “billions” from public school funding.

It surprised no one that Perry ridiculed the “partisan commentators” and “doomsayers” who are reeling from initial budgetary proposals that experts say could lead to tens of thousands of teacher layoffs, school campus closures around the state and a drastically scaled back social safety net.

Untouched in Perry’s budget are government incentives meant to lure new companies to Texas:

Perry wants the Legislature to keep $150 million in the Texas Enterprise Fund and is proposing that lawmakers give $15 million to the Emerging Technology Fund. He also is proposing $20 million for the “film and video game incentive program” that tries to lure technology companies to Texas.

Perry, the longest serving governor in the country, also wants new money for a disaster contingency fund, an expanded “virtual school” network and new tax breaks for businesses. All told, including the Enterprise Fund request, Perry is proposing more than $500 million be spent on his initiatives and priorities, including business tax incentives costing $150 million.

The move wouldn’t be unprecedented among state governments. Just yesterday, Kansas’ governor signed an executive order which eliminated that state’s arts commission. In addition, as the Statesman’s Mike Ward points out, cutting the commissions may not be purely an act of fiduciary responsibility. The Historical Commission successfully defeated First Lady Anita Perry’s plan to add an extension to the governor’s mansion:

A number of lawmakers this morning are suggesting the cut is payback for the mansion flap.

When the State Preservation Board in 2009 proposed a separate, two-story addition to the mansion, which is undergoing a restoration after a still-unsolved 2008 arson fire, historical commission officials opposed the plan on grounds that it improperly interfered with the historical nature of the mansion and its grounds.

After a high-profile controversy erupted opposing the plan — including former governors, noted historians and leading historical preservation groups — the plans were canceled about a year ago. A scaled-down addition on the back of the mansion was later approved by historical commission officials.

The elimination of the Texas Commission on the Arts may not be payback, but it could prove equally short-sighted. Just two weeks ago, the New York Times reported on the commission’s roll in the revitalization of small Texas towns around artistic activity. According to the commission’s report, the arts have generated $4.5 billion in economic impact in Texas per year. The commission plays a direct role in this activity by providing numerous grants to nonprofits throughout the state. In addition, the commission provides services to arts organizations in the form of community development, fundraising, marketing, facility management, grant writing, and leadership training.

Director of the Dallas Arts District Veletta Lill said the irony with proposed elimination of the Texas Commission on the Arts is that much of the organization’s $7.1 million budget doesn’t come from the state’s general revenue.  

“In a time when we are seeking creative workers and building creative economies this is a shortsighted recommendation,” Lill said.

Bart Weiss, who founded the Dallas Video Association, an arts organization which receives funds from the TCA, points to a contradiction in Perry’s proposed policy.

“So let me get this right, our governor wants to cut The Texas Commission on the Arts, but wants to keep the incentive program, which I do support,” Weiss said. ” But in the incentive program films, which would be the only state supported arts, the funds are awarded  not on the quality of the work, but they must  show Texas in a good light. Well, it seems like this proposal puts Texas in a bad light. If the governor wants greatness in cinema from Texas he needs to support the Texas Commission on the Arts.”

UPDATE: Texas Commission on the Arts Executive Director Gary Gibbs sent out this email to organizations which receive funding from the commission:

February 8, 2011
TCA Legislative Update

Governor Perry released his proposed FY2012-2013 budget today during his State of the State address. The document includes a recommendation to “suspend the appropriation to the Commission on the Arts.” This would eliminate all state provided funding for the agency. Without state funding, TCA would also be ineligible to receive funding in the form of federal grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

It is important to understand that the Governor’s budget recommendations are one step in a long process. The introduced versions of the appropriations bill (HB1 and SB1) both provide funding for TCA in the amount of $7.5 million over the biennium. All budget requests, including the Governor’s and TCA’s, must make their way through the process in the coming months. During that time, it is possible that changes will be made. We simply do not know what the final resolution will be.

Regarding the introduced version of the House and Senate budget bills (HB1 and SB1 respectively), the level of funding recommended for the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) is the same in both bills.

Budget recommendations include:
– Budget reduction of approximately 50% as compared to the last biennium (this includes the grants budget)
– Reduction of 30% of TCA staff (a loss of 5 staff positions)
– Elimination of funding for advertising, promotion and cultural tourism
– Elimination of the contract for TCA’s online grant system
– Reduction of 40% to TCA’s travel budge

Knowing there is a state budget shortfall estimated to be between $15 and $27 billion, TCA appreciates the support of the legislature as reflected in the introduced versions of HB1 and SB1 (82R). Such an appropriation allows TCA to continue to invest in arts education programming and cultural institutions statewide.

TCA is scheduled to appear before the Senate Finance Committee on February 17. Committee members can be found online at: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/.

TCA will request reinstatement of funding for cultural tourism programming and grants to the field, as well as reinstatement of 5 staff positions.

In other news, Representative Orr has introduced HB 704 relating to liability for ad valorem taxes on property that is the subject of a consignment. This bill could impact ad valorem sales tax on art in galleries and may be of interest to TCA constituents.

Questions regarding TCA’s status in the legislative process should be directed to me or Gaye Greever McElwain, TCA director of marketing and communications at gaye@arts.state.tx.us.

UPDATE 2: The Dallas Morning News collects additional responses from local arts organizations:

Jac Alder, executive producer-director of Theatre Three, said that although arts groups had not depended on state money for survival, specific programs might. “I have to say the state arts budget is so low that it’s mostly symbolic. … The first thing that will go is the educational programs, especially to underserved kids.”

Paul Stewart, acting president and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, said that the $27,000 the commission provides was “not insignificant,” but its loss also would not be a serious problem for the DSO.

6 comments on “Gov. Perry Proposes Eliminating the Texas Commission on the Arts

  1. I’ve lived in Texas so long (since 1973) that reading this article just makes me weep–and get mad. How many times has the pittance spent on the arts and history taken the first whack (or the threat of such)? Sigh. PLEASE LEAVE THE ARTS ALONE.

  2. I dont understand why he thinks that texas will seem like a friendly welcoming place to film and video game companies when he’s cutting the arts and the culture (things which both the industries are founded on) right out of the state. I also don’t understand how he’s still in office, he’s done so much to hurt the state but we keep electing him???

  3. At a time when so many Texans are suffering financially, job losses, higher costs in medical insurance, reduced salaries and benefits, etc., the Governor’s proposed cuts to the arts is stunning. And as others have already stated, his desire to attract the film industry to a state that may soon have little resources left for culture and arts, smacks of desperation or worse, indifference.

  4. This proposal outrages me to the point where I have no words to describe how upset I am. How does he expect to attract video and film companies to the state if he cuts the funding that supports those industries? And he clearly doesn’t understand how important the arts are to the state and to the people who live here. The arts generate a ton of income for the state and the moment he cuts funding for arts agencies, the state loses millions in income. As someone who is an arts and currently works for a non-profit dance company, I am insulted (for lack of a better word) that Rick Perry is proposing to cut funding for the arts and education. The arts increase the quality of life. And it’s proven that the arts also improve critical thinking skills, promote creativity, improve test scores and teach life skills. Why would anyone want to cut funding for something that improves the quality of life no matter who you are and how old you are? Can’t you just leave the arts alone please?

  5. How can we keep electing a governor that is clueless to the culture/ business/ economic connection necessary for a vibrant state?Not to mention the detriment to our educational infrastructure that has occurred under his leadership. How can politicians always go after the Arts as being “non-essential” when study after study show otherwise?

  6. Texas will suffer in more ways than on. It appears that Perry and his advisors want a SLAve Stat4e.