Friday, December 1, 2006

The Federal Budget and the Arts

The election is behind us and now it is time to consider the arguments we have to make to all our recently elected officials that make the case for more arts support. The next few messages from me in this space will try to do this from the Council’s perspective. Feel free to give me your feedback and offer your own analysis, present your own findings, and include your own reasons for strengthening funding for the arts.

One of the most important first steps is to set a context.

The Federal budget is about $2.3 trillion (11 zeroes after the 3). The National Endowment for the Arts’ budget is $125 million—or about 54 ten-thousandths of a percent of the federal budget (.0054%). Since it’s hard to conceptualize what these numbers mean literally, I’ve made a few comparisons that you might find helpful as you talk to Congressman-elect Welch (Senator-elect Sanders and Senator Leahy have both heard this material before):


an eight-hour school day, then students would have just over 1.5 seconds to spend on artistic pursuits. But if the Congress were to budget just “one minute” of this eight-hour day to the arts, the NEA budget would become $4.8 billion.

a $30,000 per year salary, the amount of money available for the arts would be about $1.62 per year—or just over six cents out of every biweekly paycheck! If Congress were to budget just one dollar every two weeks to support the arts, the NEA budget would be $1.99 billion.

equal to the annual budget of Montpelier, VT (the smallest US capital city) of $15 million, then Montpelier would only spend $810 a year supporting the arts. BUT! Montpelier actually spends $10,000 per year supporting the arts—or about 66 thousandths of one percent (.066%) of its annual budget.

to devote the same percentage of its budget to support the arts that Montpelier does, then the NEA’s budget would equal $1.33 billion (.066% x $2.3 trillion) which would represent a 1226% increase over the current level of NEA support of $125 million.
Every year lobbyists like me descend on Washington (in March) to increase the NEA’s budget. Every year we are told to be happy with a five or 10 million dollar increase.

Well…I’m not happy. I want that “minute” of the arts in the school. I want that dollar every two weeks in my paycheck. I want Montpelier to set the tone for the US Government’s priorities where arts support is concerned. It seems reasonable—especially given the scale of what we are talking about. The impact on tax payers? Well, if each of my fingers represented a dollar, you could count the impact on each taxpayer on the fingers of my right hand.

My next column will do a similar analysis of the Vermont State Budget….

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