A Letter From Barbara Lawton, Chair Of TheWisconsin Arts Board, RE: May 5th Joint Commitee On Finance Action

Dear friends,

Today George and I attended the Joint Committee on Finance executive session, which included action on Governor Walker's biennial budget proposals for the Wisconsin Arts Board. We will post a link to the meeting when it is archived on Wisconsin Eye [posted avove]. Until then, we hope the notes below my signature will accurately represent the brief discussion that took place around the motions.

The Committee’s action was in step with Governor Walker's proposal: the Percent for Art program will be eliminated, the Arts Board will receive only enough money to match the NEA support it receives, and the four remaining Board staff will become employees of the Department of Tourism. Two amendments were made to the governor’s proposal:  the Committee included an additional $175,700 to use as match IF the Arts Board receives additional federal funding. Were that to be included, the resulting cut to the Arts Board budget would be about 66%; the governor's proposal adds up to a 73% cut in GPR. The Committee also acted on some technical provisions. One clarifies the classification of the executive director position and specifies which staff will be going to tourism. The second returns to the Arts Board the authority to hire and fire its executive director.

The Joint Committee on Finance will likely complete its work by the end of this month. Their version of the budget will go to the Assembly and the Senate, where the Republican caucuses will control deliberations. A Conference Committee may be necessary to reconcile two versions of the bill, and then each house will vote on the agreed upon bill. The final budget then goes to Governor Walker for his line item vetoes and signature. This is all projected to be completed by the beginning of the fiscal year (July 1st).

We thank you all who worked so hard to ensure that members of the Joint Committee on Finance were positioned to take an informed position on the Arts Board budget. That committee, responsible to a statewide constituency, was the best hope for protecting Wisconsin's arts and culture infrastructure and making the changes the Arts Board and the industry sought to ensure the resiliency of our state's economy. When challenged by Senator Bob Jauch to answer the charge that the cut to the Arts Board budget was excessive, way beyond the 10% cut most agencies will take, Committee co-chair Senator Alberta Darling defended the decision explaining that the deficit demanded tough decisions. There was no motion to restore independence to the Board with adequate funding, no leadership or even commentary anywhere in the majority to speak to the critical nature of the arts and culture sector in Wisconsin's economy. When a final budget moves on to the legislature, it is highly unlikely that the majority in either house would amend it to include the Board’s independence or restoration of Arts Board funding.

We will discuss the ramifications of Joint Finance’s action and our ensuing responsibilities at the May 13th Board Meeting.

With my gratitude for your impressive advocacy and commitment to our state,

Barbara Lawton, Chair of the Wisconsin Arts Board