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Kansas Arts: 5,000+ Voices Versus One

Jay Dick

As you probably know, Gov. Brownback issued a line item veto of the Kansas Arts Commission’s budget during the holiday weekend. Before too much time passes, I want to share some of my thoughts on the situation:

This isn’t about money.

While the governor’s veto “saved” the Kansas treasury just under $700,000, they are no longer eligible for the approximately $800,000 in matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, nor a $400,000 contract from the Mid-America Arts Alliance. Thus, by my math, Kansas is losing $500,000 this year, which does not take into account other things such as the five employees of the arts commission who now are looking for a job and probably will be drawing unemployment. 

Over 5,000 emails from Kansas citizens were sent to the governor and legislators. Many letters to the editor were sent and editorials printed calling for the arts commission to be funded. Who knows how many phone calls were placed (only the legislators and governor’s office know for sure).

Let us also not forget that the state Senate voted to overturn the governor’s original Executive Reorganization Order which would have shifted the commission to another agency for one year before it was privatized. That vote was 24-16.

The House and Senate’s budget bill included almost $700,000 for the commission, which was $500,000 more than the governor had requested. To get to the governor’s desk, the bill had to pass each chamber with a majority vote and survive a conference committee. It appears that legislators heard from their constituents about funding the arts commission since the measure made it through the entire legislative process. For that, the Kansas Citizens for the Arts should be commended for their hard work.

What was this really about?

At the end of the day, one word: Power.

Gov. Brownback, a Republican, assumed office on January 10, 2011. He is new to the job and this is his first budget (although he is an experienced politician). In the Senate and House, there are large Republican majorities (Senate: 32-8 and House: 92-33). The governor saw his Executive Reorganization Order overturned and funding put in for the arts commission  put back in by the Senate against his wishes.

In other words, he was rebuked by his own party.

Now, he has to show he is the person “in charge” so he can be a strong governor and not play second fiddle to the legislature.

It became personal and the Kansas Arts Commission became of victim of that.

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