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Gov. Sam Brownback eliminated state funding for arts programs Saturday, leaving the Kansas Arts Commission without a budget, staff or offices as he signed a new spending plan that also cuts aid to public schools and makes reductions across state government.
The Arts Commission's chairman responded to what he called the "Saturday morning massacre" by promising it will continue to meet and lead an "arts movement" to revive the agency. Arts advocates worry Brownback's move will cripple local programs, particularly in rural areas, but he contends the arts will flourish with private support.
The $13.8 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 cuts overall spending 6.1 percent to close a projected shortfall that had approached $500 million. The spending plan reduces general aid to public schools by 5.6 percent, a move that's likely to force Kansas' 289 school districts to consider laying off teachers and other employees in the coming weeks.
The Republican governor used his power to veto individual budget items a handful of times in the 209-page spending plan sent to him by the GOP-dominated Legislature. He spared operating grants for public broadcasting stations but struck a proposed 2.5 percent surcharge on state employees' health insurance premiums and a requirement that the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services produce quarterly reports for lawmakers.
Brownback's push to eliminate the Arts Commission as a cost-saving move inspired protests from arts advocates, generated opposition from some GOP senators and gained some national attention. Proposals to eliminate state councils or dramatically cut funding have been pursued in several states, including New Hampshire, Texas and Washington, but Kansas may be the first where such an effort has come to fruition.
It's a significant symbolic victory for conservative, small-government Republicans who've long seen the Arts Commission as an unnecessary bureaucracy and arts funding as a luxury best supported by private donors.
"In difficult fiscal times such as these, the state must prioritize how to spend its limited resources and focus its attention on providing core services," Brownback said in a message to legislators.
Brownback sought to replace the Arts Commission with a private, nonprofit foundation. The foundation formed in February, the same day the governor issued an executive reorganization order to eliminate the commission. The state Senate killed Brownback's order in March, but many legislators assumed he'd eventually prevail by using his line-item veto authority on the budget.
Brownback not only vetoed $689,000 that legislators set aside for the Arts Commission, but struck the line authorizing the commission to keep its small staff. His administration told the commission earlier this month that its five employees would be laid off June 10.
Arts advocates had warned that eliminating the commission could cost the state as much as $1.2 million in federal funds. Brownback had proposed setting aside a $200,000 subsidy for the new foundation in the state historical society's budget, but the Legislature put all funding for the arts in the Arts Commission's budget -- meaning none survived the governor's action.
Still, the governor said: "The arts will continue to thrive in Kansas when funded by private donations, and I intend to personally involve myself in efforts to make this happen."
Arts Commission Chairman Henry Schwaller IV, president of a Hays real estate investment firm and a local arts council, said the governor ignored the people's desire to keep the commission. Arts advocates said thousands of arts-related jobs are in danger, and rural arts councils could lose much needed help.
Schwaller noted that Brownback's vetoes didn't touch the Kansas law setting up the commission, and he said it plans to meet June 16 in Lawrence to discuss its future. He argued that the commission remains the state's official arts agency -- even without a staff or office -- and said it isn't ruling out a lawsuit.
In an email Saturday to about 7,000 people, Kansas Citizens for the Arts asked for continued support, adding, "Please stay tuned."
"We're going to work to build grass-roots support, to rebuild a version of the Kansas Arts Commission," Schwaller said. "I realize this is going to be a very difficult task, but we're up for it because Kansans have overwhelmingly said they want this agency. More importantly, they want the services we provide in their communities."
The budget for the next fiscal year cuts overall spending by more than $900 million, though much of the reduction reflects the disappearance of federal economic stimulus funds.
General state aid to schools will drop by $232 per student, its biggest decline in at least two decades, from $4,012 to $3,780.
Brownback praised legislators for "everyone's hard work" but signaled that he plans to push the Republican-controlled Legislature further to reduce the size of state government.
"As we look toward more challenges ahead, I encourage the Legislature to join me in thoroughly reviewing areas where we can reduce the reach of state government," he wrote in his message to lawmakers.
One item he'll target is public broadcasting. He proposed eliminating operating grants for stations this year, but lawmakers included almost $1.5 million in the next budget.
He left that spending alone, but in his message, he warned that he'll seek to eliminate it next year, telling stations to "make appropriate preparations."
The budget is Senate Sub for HB 2014.
Kansas governor: https://www.governor.ks.gov/
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org