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Kansas Again Faces Possible Loss Of All Federal Arts Funding

Kansas Department of Commerce

The leader of a statewide advocacy group warned Tuesday that Kansas is likely to lose its federal arts dollars again early next year because the state isn't providing enough funding for arts programs under Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration.

But a Department of Commerce spokesman said it is working on partnerships with other state agencies to show the National Endowment for the Arts that Kansas' commitment to arts projects is strong enough to qualify for federal dollars.

Henry Schwaller, chairman of Kansas Citizens for the Arts, said he expects the NEA to withhold about $591,000 it had planned to send the state during its current fiscal year, which began in July. An NEA official told state officials in a September letter that the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission was almost $225,000 short under the current budget of the state funding "match" needed to qualify for federal dollars.

The NEA's letter told the state it must close the gap by Jan. 15 four days after the GOP-dominated Legislature convenes its next annual session. The commission is part of the state Department of Commerce, and Schwaller said he's not expecting it or Brownback's office to find the additional funds.

"The impact is going to be dramatic," said Schwaller, the president of a Hays real estate firm who serves on the commission. "It will just accelerate the decline of arts organizations and the arts and culture across Kansas."

But Department of Commerce spokesman Dan Lara said state funding for an arts-related project by another agency or even an "in-kind" contribution such as employees' time could count toward meeting the commitment required by the NEA for federal funds. Thus, the Department of Commerce is considering partnerships with other agencies, he said.

"We continue to look for those opportunities," Lara said.

State arts funding peaked at $1.7 million during Kansas' 2008 budget year. When Brownback took office in January 2011, he argued that private funds should support arts programs so the state could focus its tax dollars on "core" government functions, such as education, public safety and social services.

The governor in 2011 vetoed all state arts funding, which prompted the NEA to cut off federal funds and brought Kansas national criticism. Legislators in 2012 budgeted $700,000 for the arts commission, but the amount has declined since.

The potential loss of federal arts funds comes as the state wrestles with its own budget problems. State officials and university economists last week issued a new fiscal forecast that slashed the state's projected revenues, and Brownback's budget director, Shawn Sullivan, immediately announced $124 million in budget adjustments to avert a deficit.

Sullivan and the chairmen of the Legislature's budget-writing committees said they weren't aware of the NEA's push for Kansas to boost its arts funding.

"The timing is almost impossible," said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican.

Lawmakers set aside about $190,000 for the Creative Arts Industries Commission's operations in the current budget. The state expects to provide another $58,000, mostly from an income-tax checkoff for the arts and the sale of special arts license plates.

But the state's $248,000 falls short of the nearly $473,000 that the NEA says Kansas must provide to receive its federal funds. In its letter dated Sept. 3, Laura Scanlan, the agency's director of state and regional partnerships, said federal law requires the larger amount as a match and Kansas will forfeit NEA funds without it.