More Cuts to the Arts Likely From Albany, Says NYS Arts

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Arts CutsNYS Arts has put out an email red-alert to arts advocates across New York State: When the state legislature returns to what it pretends is work come September, in addition to embarrassing themselves as the most catastrophically dumb, dysfunctional goons in the entire history of Western democracy, the perilous state of the state’s finances will be upon them, requiring immediate action.

According to NYS Arts, state arts appropriations are going to be on the chopping block. Welcome to that dreaded fact of post-Bush, first-year-Obama life called “midyear cuts.”

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The red-alert states:

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There is a $2.1 billion hole in the current NYS budget and word has it that the state will have a ‘negative cash flow’ around November!!

The $2.1 billion shortfall in NYS’s budget is a result of plummeting sales and income tax receipts, according to the Division of the Budget. In response, the Governor has said that further action is needed to control spending. Sound familiar?

Expect this to be the precursor to mid-year budget cuts. Again.

We anticipate that the Legislature will convene in September to discuss budget amendments (read “cuts”) to the current state budget.

Holy shortfall, Batman! Why is this happening? Well, NYS Arts has some background on this as well:

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Although lawmakers cut more than $17 billion to produce the current FY 09-10 $131.8 billion NYS budget, it appears clear that new spending cuts — or new revenue — will be needed.

New revenue is not happening since:

  • a) Income tax collections already dropped 35% in the first quarter of the 2009-10 fiscal year. The drop was $584 million more than had been projected in May;
  • b) Sales tax collections fell 6%. That was $159 million less than expected;
  • c) Wages across the state are projected to fall 4.8% in 2009, the largest drop ever recorded. This will produce a ripple effect that will affect all of the state’s revenue sources now and over the next four years;
  • d) Other reductions and increased public-assistance costs have contributed to the gap.

And these are all first quarter reports. One must assume that the second quarter reports will look gloomier.

The budget deficit is projected to grow to $4.6 billion in 2010-11. This is an increase of $2.2 billion from the estimate in May. It is expected to reach a cumulative $38.2 billion over the next four years. And the state’s general fund may be in negative cash flow by November or December, requiring it to borrow from other state funds.

Obviously the Empire State is really something of a shrinking fiscal empire. Now, I don’t blame NYS Arts for wanting to get out in front of this situation — the organization has a right, like any other special-interest group, to try and protect its natural constituencies, to prepare them for the inevitable lobbying, begging, clawing, hueing, crying, screaming and back-door dealing that is what passes for legislative philosophy in Albany. That’s why NYS Arts included this copy in the red-alert:

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Start setting up appointments NOW to meet with your legislators at home right after Labor Day.

Discuss the impact of the arts in your community. You know the drill: letters, brochures, stories that tug at the heart and at the economic epicenter of our communities.

Need your legislator’s contact information?

NYS ARTS will begin our online campaigns after Labor Day….so watch your inbox for action items in our Online Advocacy Center.

But let’s ask what I think is a fair, reasonable question: At a time when everyone must tighten their belts to a point of choking off circulation and crunching their hips and ribs, how realistic is it to assume that the arts, despite comprising but a tiny percentage of the state budget, will be spared? And what are we — arts advocates, artists, people who work with or interact with the creative communities of New York State — really doing to prepare ourselves yet one more time for the economic sledgehammer? What is fair to expect of our representatives in Albany? What is fair to expect of ourselves? Oh, when I refer to our elected representatives “working” in Albany, I mean in addition to showing up for work in order to feed like sloppy hogs off the public trough while the people of the state suffer from neglect.

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If anything, I wish NYS Arts would not only mobilize people to call, write and email their elected officials and prepare their heartbreaking stories but to make them understand that extraordinary times — and these remain extraordinary times — are going to require extraordinary measures and shared sacrifice. We’ve just come out of nearly a decade in which the American people were sold quite a bill of goods: a war on the basis of a lie; the idea of paying for that war by cutting taxes for the wealthy in the fanatical belief that trickle-down economics will make up the revenue differential. Not so. You know, it was a crime not to ask the nation to share in sacrifice after Sept. 11. Now, despite the possibility of “green shoots” here and there, we continue to face an economic Sept. 11. So the question remains: When will people be asked to sacrifice? What, exactly, should we be sacrificing? Nonprofit arts groups may scream my name and hang me in effigy for writing this, but if the answer comes in the form of, say, a 5% NYSCA cut, that’s going to be painful, yes, of course it will, and it will sting and it will generate anger and bitterness. But it’s a sacrifice we may have to make if we’re somehow to save the nation from its own excesses, one appropriation bill and legislative session at a time.

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