Unable to see the tax revenue for the tourists, the Legislature has signed off on a state budget for the coming fiscal year that further reduces support for Decentralized Arts Funding and Statewide Arts Grants by about a third. House Bill 1, the roughly $25 billion state spending plan for the 2012-2013 year, included a Senate amendment that slashed state support for arts and culture by about $500,000, reducing the already paltry pickings to just under $2 million combined for DAF and SAG.
The proposed funding in HB 1, which will likely be signed today by Gov. Bobby Jindal, represents a steady and dramatic erosion in state support for arts and culture, which as a combined economic engine accounts for millions of dollars annually in tax revenue through tourism and other forms of cultural commerce. In 2009, before Jindal and state lawmakers blew a $1 billion budget surplus, combined funding for DAF and SAG was about $5 million.
The funding cut means that regional grant-distribution agencies like the Acadiana Center for the Arts will have about one third less revenue to distribute in their areas. There are nine such hubs for distributing state arts funding, the AcA included, and those agencies will have to make some difficult choices moving forward; namely, whether to distribute fewer grants or the same number of grants but in smaller amounts. Either way, one third less is one third less, and some small-town museums, festivals, community theater groups and other arts/culture agencies will no doubt be shuttered.
Gerd Wuestemann, the AcA’s executive director, says he anticipates two things as a result of the cuts: “Some of the smaller organizations that do good work, especially in the more rural areas, may have to close doors,” he says. “And I think it will result in fewer [a/c] projects and less income to the communities and less vibrancy in our lifestyle, and I think that’s a shame.”
A sham(e), indeed.
The current state of arts funding represents an unyielding assault on Louisiana culture by JindalCo, which annually proposes draconian cuts to a/c. The proposed funding level of just under $2 million is where the governor has envisioned state support for the arts. In 2009 the AcA distributed more than $230,000 to arts/culture producers in the eight-parish Acadiana region. By 2010 that level had fallen by about $30,000. But Wuestemann says even then the AcA’s distribution of arts grants made an impact: “In 2010, we distributed $200,000 that resulted in 1,500 activities — performances or shows — and employed 1,000 local artists and were seen by 200,000 people. So, if you think about that, it’s $1 per person to have access in rural areas to cultural activities. That is a phenomenal return on investment — it feeds local economies; it produces tax money for local coffers; it produces social profit and quality of life, oftentimes creating the only access to arts and culture in local parishes.”
In the coming year Wuestemann anticipates the center will have about $120,000 to spread among the many a/c groups. Proponents of robust state funding for the arts argue that such support has a significant return on investment — 7/1 by most estimates, meaning for every dollar the state invests in arts/culture it earns $7 in tax revenue from the cultural economy, tourism primarily. Unfortunately, myopic lawmakers often see arts and culture as a luxury.
“I have a feeling that with this cut we will further weaken the cultural infrastructure of the state,” Wuestemann predicts. “And I think that’ll reduce our ability to attract tourists, our ability to keep our best and brightest talents here, and in the long run I think it will endanger our communities because in my opinion culture is not just something you do in Louisiana, it’s very much more the fabric of communities; it’s our greatest tourist attraction, one of strongest export articles and I think it feeds us financially in the state.”
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.