Arts community hit hard by budget cuts
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Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed $29 billion budget eliminates all state funding to the Senator John Heinz History Center, which could lead to reduced hours and elimination of programs and exhibitions.
Cuts in funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1 also are proposed for the Carnegie Science Center and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, as well as for eight public television stations in Pennsylvania, including WQED Multimedia.
If the budget stands, it will be "a disaster for public television in Pennsylvania," said Deborah Acklin, general manager of Oakland-based WQED Multimedia.
But for the history center, the latest proposal would be the third round of cuts in state funding the history center has experienced in six months.
Mr. Rendell's budget wipes out the center's full $350,000 state allocation. In late December, the Strip District center announced it was freezing hiring and pay raises and re-evaluating its operating hours and library services to offset the earlier cuts in its $8.1 million annual budget.
If the newest proposal is approved, "It would mean reduction in services," said Andrew E. Masich, the center's president and chief executive officer. At 275,000 square feet, the Heinz center is the largest history museum in Pennsylvania and includes exhibits, library, archives and other education facilities.
Charles Kolling, a lobbyist for the history center, did not sound surprised yesterday.
"The governor never puts funding in the budget for the history center. The governor traditionally cuts us out of the budget," Mr. Kolling said yesterday.
"Funding for most of these arts groups and the Heinz History Center is usually inserted during the budget negotiations," he said, adding that "budget hearings will start the week after next. This year it might be more of a challenge because of the state's fiscal deficit."
The proposed budget reduces state funding for the Carnegie Science Center and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History by 11 percent each. Science center funding would drop from $251,000 to $226,000 for 2009 and 2010. The natural history museum's funding also would be reduced from $251,000 to $226,000 for the same period.
Mr. Kolling, who also lobbies for the Carnegie Museums, said it is among 30 organizations, including state-related schools, hospitals and large museums, that receive funding in a separate bill passed by the general assembly.
Those 30 groups, he added, which include Carnegie Museums, the University of Pittsburgh and the Children's Institute, "receive funding after the general fund budget is approved."
Johnna A. Pro, a spokeswoman for Dwight Evans, majority chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, said those 30 groups have been in the budget year after year and rely on that funding.
For public television, the state's proposal could be a double whammy.
Tony May, senior vice president of Triad Strategies, said the state's eight public televisions will lose federal funds if state funding is reduced because federal officials see state money as a local match.
"If we lose this $8 million in grant funding -- WQED gets $1,100,000 from the state's operating grant -- that's going to mean layoffs," Mr. May said.
In the current year, Pennsylvania public television is getting $12.3 million in state money. Of that, $8 million is for station grants, $3.75 million goes to the network for operations and $583,000 is for technology upgrades.
For WQED, the more than $1 million in grants support the basic services the organization provides, including PBS programming costs and powering the transmitters of WQED and WQEX.
"If this cut were to hold, we would have to reprioritize everything we do as an organization," Ms. Acklin said. Cuts to local programming, which she considers "absolutely essential," would have to be considered. That could include nightly newsmagazine "On Q."
"We would have to be fiscally responsible about it and face it if it comes to that, but I hope and pray it doesn't come to that."
Ms. Acklin remains optimistic that funding will be restored.
"We are in the very first inning of what will be a long ballgame," she said.
First Published February 6, 2009 12:00 am