Letter from Ed Lazere about Finance and Revenue Committee’s FY14 Arts proposal

Dear Arts Advocates,

Robert Bettmann asked that I provide my analysis of the recent arts bill introduced by Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. I know the intention of your efforts is to ensure stable, level funding for the arts. I think there are some things the arts community should be concerned about.

In addition to being an Advisory Board member of the DC Advocates for the Arts, I’m the Director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI). DCFPI seeks to inform public debates on budget and tax issues and to ensure that the needs of low-income residents are considered.

I have read through the Finance and Revenue Committee’s proposals around the arts and have some thoughts to share. While it shows a clear desire to help the arts, it is not the clear-cut victory you are looking for.

The proposal from the committee would tie a dedicated funding source (a percent of sales tax revenue) to an increase in DC tax collections (revenue growth would in effect be the funding source). But the budget submitted by the Mayor already has a “wish list” of 16 or so items that add to about $60 million. This would in effect jump the arts (which are already on the list) above other items on the existing wish list.

The Finance and Revenue committee proposal also stipulates that the first $6.5 million would go to fund a CFO tax database. A further portion of the committee report would earmark about $6 million for fairly specific arts purposes. That means it would be a while before general money for the Commission on the Arts and Humanities would be available.

Because of the earmarks, and the existing budgetary wish list, the committee’s proposal has some political liabilities. Additionally, the dedicated ¼ penny of the sales tax to the Commission on the Arts and Humanities would take money that normally goes to the general fund, and that money would have to be replaced.

My sense is that Councilmember Evans’ commitment to the arts is sincere and strong, and I am confident that he will vigorously explore other options to fund the arts if these proposals do not succeed.

I support stable funding for the arts and look forward to working with you going forward to make that a reality, regardless of the outcome of the FY 2014 budget.


Ed Lazere