Stop Thief

As reported by the Cultural Advocacy Coalition and Art Scatter last night, state funding for culture is in serious jeopardy. If you can believe it, the Oregon legislature is actually proposing that they raid the Oregon Cultural Trust for $1.8 million, including all the revenues from the sale of the Cultural Trust license plate over the past 5 years.

Are you frickin kiddin me? I did not dole out extra dollars to the DMV to support the state's general fund, I and thousands more were specifically promised that these dollars would support arts and culture in the state of Oregon. I'm pretty sure that stealing those funds now would be totally illegal, and I'm prepared to sue. But first, let's try and head them off at the pass. Here is the announcement for the CAC last night:

Help Preserve Oregon Arts, Culture, and Humanities Funding
Take Action!

The Cultural Advocacy Coalition representing Oregon's 1200 cultural non-profits in Salem is closely monitoring budget and legislative developments in Salem.

If you read the newspaper and listen to broadcast media, you know that Oregon is facing one of the most significant budget shortfalls in its history. The State issued its revenue forecast on Friday. Revenue projections are now an additional $55 million over the previously announced shortfall of 800 million in the State's General Fund. Lottery revenues are also down.

Legislators issued a "cut list" last week. It contains proposed reductions and fund sweeps for all agencies to re-balance the 2007- 09 budget, assuming an $800 million hole. This represents a serious threat to state funding for culture.

In this proposal are the following reductions in current year spending:

$211,384 cut to the Oregon Arts Commission
$350,000 cut to the Oregon Historical Society
$ 64,085 cut in lottery funds to the Office of Film and Television

Finally, and most sobering: the "funds sweep" list of Other Funds includes the recapture of $1.8 million from the permanent fund of the Oregon Cultural Trust. The $1.8 million includes $1.3 million in cultural license plate revenue generated since 2003 - plus interest.

The Cultural Trust was authorized by the Legislature in 1999 - ten years ago - to grow and stabilize funding for culture - in good times and in bad. To skim the Trust fund and re-allocate cultural license plate fees for the General Fund is a violation of trust with the buyers of the plates who assumed they were supporting Oregon culture with their purchases. To raid the fund to pay for other state services simply violates the very purpose of the Trust and the intent of the Trust's thousands of donors: to protect and invest in Oregon's cultural resources.

This situation is very serious. Not only are legislators dealing with a large revenue shortfall and the potential of an additional $55 million in cuts, there are efforts underway to hold k-12 school funding from further reductions.

Take Action Now.

Use the Cultural Advocacy Coalition's website to send a message directly to your legislators. You can use one of the messages on the website - or write your own message to convey the importance of cultural funding in your city, town or county and why the Oregon Cultural Trust needs to be remain intact and taken off the fund sweep list.

Work to re-balance the state budget is proceeding very quickly and may be completed by this weekend. Weigh in with your opinion. Click here to send a message to your legislators NOW.

We know that advocacy, as called for here, can work when the shit hits the fan. In the days before the final votes were cast on the Federal Economic Recovery Package, 80,000 people contacted Congress to defeat the Coburn Amendment and restore $50 million in NEA funds -- and it worked. I am pleased to report that the CAC has invested in the same helpful online tool (Capwiz) that can now help us all deliver urgent messages to our state senators and representatives. Now is the time to stand up and fight at the state level. Please, do your part. It will only take two minutes.

And the local battles are just beginning, so stay tuned.


MightyToyCannon said...

Time to mount our steeds, steel our spines and scramble from the trenches onto the gore-strewn battlefield of arts funding once again.

The proposed theft of Cultural Trust funding is particularly galling for two reasons: (1) it takes away funds that are needed now more than ever; and (2) it erodes trust. I've been paying extra fees every time I register my vehicles not because I love the look of those plates (which I do, plus I have a set of really low numbers), but because I've trusted that my extra contribution will be going directly to the arts. You can be sure I'll be writing and complaining.

The optimist in me thinks that legislators have just created a compendium of choices--something the financial manager in me understands the need for when tackling a budget crisis. The cynic in me knows that political decisions often follow the path of least resistance; i.e., a legislator will ask: (1) Who's going to be mad if I vote a certain way? (2) Who's going to think I'm a hero? (3) How much do I care? Our job is to remind them that there will be resistance and that axing arts funding is not worth the headaches it will create for them. I suggest using both the automated, online messaging option AND sending a personalize letter or phone call.

culturejock said...

I think you're exactly right, and your recommendations are spot-on!

cynseattle said...

I seriously wonder about the legality of co-opting the OCT funds for other purposes. Research needed by a true legal mind (mine is not!), but with the creaion of the Trust originally being an act of our legislature, and the inherent promise that our contributions would, in fact, leverage additional monies, I think that if this crazy idea somehow gets through, it should be lawsuit time. Class action lawsuit... I'm in.

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