The significant investment in cultural funding made by the Legislature during this year’s session could have a lasting and positive impact on arts and museums.
Assuming Governor Gary R. Herbert signs the budget bills approved during the final days of the session, the Utah Division of Arts & Museums will receive an additional $2 million in one-time funding for grants to arts organizations and museums. This will bring the total grant pool in fiscal year 2020, including federal funds, to approximately $3.5 million.
Of course, the $2 million is lower than proposed by Herbert or recommended by the appropriations subcommittee. Considering the larger budget issues that dominated the final week, that’s not surprising or disappointing. To help explain what happened, we will use the same question-and-answer approach as in previous posts.
Okay — so what happened?
Legislators and the governor entered this session with one major goal: tax reform. When that fell apart a week before the end of the session, legislators scrambled to piece together a budget. As late as Tuesday morning — and the session ended Thursday — House leaders seemed willing to end the session with zero new spending. The eventual compromise, announced late Tuesday afternoon, shifted $234 million in requested ongoing spending for fiscal year 2020 to one-time. That included the $2 million for arts and museums grants.
Why is $2 million not surprising?
A common cliché at the Capitol is that everybody gets half of what they request. This year, the reality was closer to one-third for many requests because of the postponed tax reform and mid-session revenue projections that reduced the surplus by about $200 million. For example, Herbert proposed $100 million for clean air programs, but the Legislature gave about $30 million. Like the grants funding, it is lower than proposed, but still historic and impactful.
Why is $2 million not disappointing?
Expectations ran high when Herbert proposed $6 million and remained high when the appropriations subcommittee recommended $3.5 million. From that perspective, the $2 million could seem like a loss. When viewed from a historic perspective, however, $2 million is exceptional. It creates a total grant pool of $3.5 million that can support organizations statewide. It also presents a legitimate opportunity for Arts & Museums to create a tiered grant system that provides predictable funding for large and small organizations alike.
How can one-time funding be described as predictable?
Legislative leaders sent a clear signal that most of the $234 million shifted to one-time would be reconsidered as ongoing once they finish tax reform. Those reconsiderations could happen during a special session later this year or, more likely, during next year’s general session. Additionally, intent language in this year’s budget bill indicates they intend the grants funding to continue.
Is $2 million enough money to meet the needs of organizations statewide?
It’s a solid foundation. At the very least, it means cultural spending by the Legislature won’t be reduced because of this funding, since direct legislative appropriations to cultural groups is $1.5 million in fiscal year 2020. More important, it’s an opportunity for the division to prove the concept.
Enough with the false positivity and spin. Seriously, the Legislature cut the initial funding proposal by two-thirds. How is that a good thing?
A fair question, and one many within the division and the department, as well as outside supporters, grappled with as the session ended. But here’s the reality: For the first time in many years, the majority of legislators didn’t focus on whether they should fund cultural grants. The debate centered on how much they should invest. More and more legislators recognize the impact of the cultural sector on areas such as quality of life, education, and economic development. That sets the stage for continued, and even increased, cultural sector funding.
Furthermore, legislators showed they trust the Department of Heritage & Arts and the Division of Arts & Museums to use taxpayers’ money wisely. It may sound strange for legislators to worry about $2 million in a $19 billion budget, but they take their responsibility to manage the public’s money very seriously. So for them to trust somebody else to determine how it’s spent — even a state agency — says a lot.
What can people do now the session has ended?
Thank your legislators and the governor’s office for their support of the cultural sector. Help them understand how these grants can help. Finally, support the grants process going forward and help improve it through participation and constructive feedback. For this approach to work, the division needs to develop a system that provides predictable, sustainable funding for all organizations, and those organizations need to buy into the concept from the outset.
Image credit: Ogden Symphony Ballet, a grant recipient