Advocates for public funding of arts programs are painting a dim picture of the House's annual budget, saying its recommendation of a 13 percent cut in funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council will force the council to scale back its work and comes as President Trump is also retreating from the arts.
The budget (H 3600), approved 159-1 on Tuesday night, allocates $12,075,699 to the council, which promotes the arts, humanities, and interpretive sciences. The council received $14,299,000 this fiscal year and Gov. Charlie Baker in January proposed a budget of $14,307,229 for the council.
"We are deeply disappointed with the budget approved by the House, which calls for a 13 percent cut in funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council," MASSCreative Executive Director Matt Wilson said in a statement. He added, "With the Trump Administration proposing the elimination of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, now is not the time to step back from our commitment to the arts."
The council's budget is funded by the legislative appropriation, money from the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources. The council aims to boost cultural tourism and the creative economy by awarding grants to non-profit organizations, communities, and school and youth programs.
House leaders said their ability to make investments next year was squeezed by significant growth in MassHealth and lower-than-projected tax revenue growth, leaving them with less money to spread around between various priorities. The House this week rejected tax-raising budget amendments.
The House Ways and Means Committee's budget called for $10,075,699 for the council, an amount that was increased by $2 million as part of a floor amendment.
Rep. Cory Atkins and 116 House members signed on to a bipartisan amendment that would have boosted the council's funding to $16 million. Despite majority support for that amendment, there was no public push for it on the House floor and lawmakers settled for the $2 million add-on.
If the House's funding level is maintained through the Senate budget, it would "reverse gains made in recent years to restore state cultural funding that has barely recovered from the last recession, forcing the agency to cut grants in its key programs," the Cultural Council said in a statement.
The climate for arts funding appears more favorable in the Senate, where Senate President Stanley Rosenberg this year has spoken out this year against cuts and traveled to Washington, D.C. to show his support for public funding of arts programs.