Well, look at that. South Carolina has an arts commission again.
Earlier this month, The Clyde Fitch Report covered Governor Nikki Haley’s line item veto of funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission (among 80 other funding vetoes). But the state legislature, not in session at the time of the vetoes, has come back to work and reversed several of the governor’s more mean-spirited cuts. In addition to the restored arts commission, other overturned vetoes include funding for teachers’ pay raises and for rape crisis centers.
Let’s pause to sit a moment with the idea that Governor Haley looked at legislature-passed funding for the state arts commission, for paying teachers, and for rape crisis centers and thought, Not on my watch!
With the dignity befitting her office, Haley live-Facebooked the votes on her vetoes. After the state House overturned the rape crisis centers veto, she posted a rant against “special interests” and their “back door way of getting the money.” What a peach.
This is the second of Haley’s two years in office during which she has sought to do away with funding for the arts commission, as well as the second time her veto was overturned. Both times by Republican-controlled legislatures. So, due respect is owed to those Republicans who acted reasonably and responsibly here. The governor’s veto would have left South Carolina as the only state without any kind of dedicated arts agency. Several Republican state senators gave quotes acknowledging how embarrassing and unacceptable that would be for the state. Yet, the governor called protests organized by the art commission at the State House “arrogant.”
Local newspaper The State reported that every time one of her vetoes was upheld, she posted “taxpayers win” to Facebook. She later crowed about how “happy” she was that so many of her vetoes ultimately stood.
Alas, there’s more than one silly, illegitimate reason that Republicans put forth to cut public arts funding. The one we’ve grown accustomed to centers around “protecting” the public from artists who presume to make art about something besides white, heterosexual, Christian “values.” The Clyde Fitch Report has covered in the past (link-NSFW) how Senators Jesse Helm and Al D’Amato’s attack on the NEA in the 1990s, while masquerading as moral superiority, had clear racist, misogynistic and homophobic overtones, if not outright tones.
Haley’s reason for cutting funding in this case was different; there was no specific art-with any content-in question here. The governor remained defiantly proud of her decision to abolish the arts commission because she insists that art is not a legitimate use of public money; she thinks the arts should find support only through private donations and that individual taxpayers know how to make better use of that money than the state government.
This move is an example of plain old I’ve-spent-my-career-in-government-but-I-hate-government rhetorical foolishness. Pretending that individual citizens, acting independently, can sufficiently fund services in the public good-like the arts-is unhelpful for the successful functioning of society.
Not only are the arts self-evidently humanistically beneficial for everyone, but the arts are economically beneficial, as well. A relatively modest investment in the arts indisputably drives an astounding return on that investment for the entire community, both intangibly and directly financially tangibly. But that “modest” investment still must be large on a scale that only can come from government.
If the governor wants individual, private South Carolinians to donate to the arts in a way that works reasonably for and benefits that state, I have a proposal for how that could work: Perhaps South Carolinians could make those donations obliquely, in the form of taxes, and then the state government could support a state arts agency. Oh… Someone already had that idea.
It is a good day for South Carolina-and for the rest of the states as a precedent-that the governor’s grandstanding on public funding for the arts was rejected, and by members of her own party.