Republican state budget is bad news for the arts
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The state budget approved Monday by Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee may be nothing more than an opening salvo. But its zero funding for the arts, film offices, selected museums and public television threw a scare into arts leaders and prompted a viral campaign urging protests.
The full Senate could vote on the bill as early as today.
"It's a disaster," said Philip Horn, director of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, whose line items went from $14 million in grants and $1.2 million in administration to a goose egg. It's the first time the office's entire budget has been slashed to nothing.
"People come at this from a political perspective, but to start on one side at zero is pretty extraordinary," Mr. Horn said.
"I've never been more frightened in my life," said Charlie Humphrey, executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and one of several to sound the alarm via mass e-mail alert.
The preliminary budget, if enacted, would mean massive layoffs and closures for arts groups that already are cutting back in response the economic downturn.
"I've seen lots of head fakes and brinksmanship in the past," Mr. Humphrey said, "but this feels very real."
Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, minority leader on the appropriations committee, voted against the GOP budget, along with all his Democratic colleagues, and doesn't expect it to pass in its current form.
Still, he said, "The arts community needs to work very had to convince members of the Republican party that their programs are worthwhile."
Lawmakers, he said, "need to realize the arts are a key economic generator. We're in difficult economic times, so there are going to be reductions. But these cuts are too deep. This isn't a workable document to my colleagues in the Democratic caucus."
House Republican Whip Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods did not return calls seeking comment.
Like many groups, Filmmakers/CFA already has trimmed its costs, slashing the budget by $200,000 and cutting salaries and benefits to avoid layoffs. But if the organization lost its $350,000 state allocation, it would mean the loss of up to five jobs and the end of its artists in the schools program.
And without a functioning film office to attract movie production crews, the region wouldn't have $60 million in industry dollars, said Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office. That body got about $115,000 this year, more than half its budget, from the statewide allocation of $517,000.
Also zeroed out of the budget was $226,000 each for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Carnegie Science Center.
Public televisions stations already were on notice because Gov. Ed Rendell's budget cut their allocation. Supporters of WQED and others rallied yesterday at the state Capitol.
"We wouldn't be talking this way if revenues hasn't fallen so short," said Mr. Horn. "But the money state puts into the arts generates an awful lot of benefit for a fairly modest investment."
First Published May 6, 2009 12:00 am