Not So Special, Not So Dedicated Arts Tax

A cautionary tale for the “Beware Politicians Bearing Gifts” file. (A pretty thin file given the relationship between politics and the arts.)

Four years ago, I posted about how the State of New Jersey was trying to ignore a law that guaranteed funding to the arts from hotel tax revenue. This was a particularly unwise move given that cutting funding to the arts meant the tax would go away entirely thanks to a poison pill provision.

In other words, for want of cutting a couple million from arts funding, the state would lose many more millions when the hotel tax disappeared due to making the cut.

The government received a lot of criticism for contemplating the move, including from a former governor.

Now there is a new administration and a new attitude. When the tax was created, it was contemplated that the funding for the arts would increase as tax revenue increased. The problem is where the previous administration had viewed the $28 million minimum funding limit as the floor they wanted to demolish, the current administration sees it as the ceiling they are happy to bolster.

Instead of providing more funding as more revenue comes in to the dedicated tax, the state is raking the excess revenue into the general coffers.

“…the tax generated more than $1.1 billion for state and local governments since it was introduced 10 years ago, but only $184 million has gone to the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the largest of the four agencies that should have received a far bigger chunk of the money.

[…]

It’s a cautionary tale for supporters of a separate bill that would take a slice of the sales tax to fund the state’s open space and historic preservation programs, which have run out of money. It might look great on paper, but without the political will behind it, the promises are hollow.”

This story makes me wonder about the fate of the funds collected as a result of the tax increase that was passed in Minnesota to provide support to wildlife areas and the arts.

I know the Minnesota legislature has been asking if the Minneapolis Orchestra has betrayed the public trust by accepting funding but not providing concerts. My hope is that it is motivated by an appreciation of the arts and a desire to see them produced rather than a desire to scrap the funding.

Can anyone from Minnesota give me a sense of how things have worked out?

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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4 thoughts on “Not So Special, Not So Dedicated Arts Tax”

  1. I live in Minneapolis. The Minnesota tax in question has been a godsend; I keep hearing over and over at concerts and events that support came from Legacy funds.

    I was — and still am — skeptical of setting tax policy via constitutional amendment, but have no doubt that the majority of the money is being sent to worthy artistic causes. It seems to me they’ve done a particularly good job of making sure the money flows to small and/or local projects as well as big institutions.

    Details of funded projects here: http://www.legacy.leg.mn/projects/project/9

    As to whether the MN Orch was a “worthy cause,” well, a lot of us are just dying for a complete financial picture….

    Reply
  2. “My hope is that it is motivated by an appreciation of the arts and a desire to see them produced rather than a desire to scrap the funding.”

    It’s actually motivated by an anger at how the MOA manipulated state legislators and conveniently forgot to mention they were planning for a major work stoppage when they asked the state government for $14 million to renovate Orchestra Hall in 2010. It’s a statement about the poor leadership of this organization in particular, not a philosophical one about the role of government in funding the arts in Minnesota.

    Being it’s a constitutional amendment, this program will last until 2034. http://www.legacy.leg.mn/about-funds I don’t know if those funds can legally be directed toward other channels. There may be a way to do so; I just don’t know how.

    The Minnesota Republican party is not in especially great shape right now. (Hence, perhaps, the hostility of the almost exclusively right-wing MOA board to unions, as well as the largest donor to the orchestra, Judy Dayton, who is the Democratic governor’s aunt. It’s a theory, anyway.) Democrats control all three branches of government, and liberal grassroots has won several important battles in the state over the last cycle (no voter ID, gay marriage, etc.). Liberals are very energized. I have difficulty imagining Legacy funding being changed in any substantive way (if it even legally can be) unless the Republicans control more of the state government, and right now I think it’s a real stretch to assume they’ll get the necessary power before the work stoppage ends or the MOA collapses completely. But that’s just my two cents. There are others who follow Minnesota state politics closer than I do.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the reply Emily, Paul and those who emailed me. I think it is a testament to how much people in Minnesota (and Eau Claire, WI) value funding for the arts in that region that I have gotten a strong response to this post which is mostly dedicated to NJ.

      Reply
    • The “Legacy Amendment” is officially titled “The Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment”. The “Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund” portion receives 19.75% of the revenue per the amendment, so any changes would have to be constitutional I believe. In any case, Rep. Phyllis Kahn is chair of the MN House’s Legacy Committee and she is a tiger (she is also a member of SOSPCO’s Exploratory Committee). She will be on this until the bitter end.

      Reply

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