Administration backs off arts funding change

The Office of Policy and Management this afternoon backed off its proposal in the revised fiscal 2013 budget to have the state’s major arts and cultural organizations compete for the money they have traditionally received as an earmark.

Instead, Secretary Benjamin Barnes indicated in a statement that the Department of Economic and Community Development will develop a phased-in approach. The more than two dozen groups that normally receive earmarks will receive 80 percent of the allocation they received in fiscal year 2012, but would have to compete for the remaining 20 percent.

It does not make clear whether that’s based on the original allocation to the groups, or the amount they eventually received. In January, as part of an overall budget rollback, those groups lost about 5 percent of their funding.

In the 2013 budget revision released last week, overall arts and culture funding was cut by 8 percent. The funds were then moved into a statewide marketing account along with tourism funds. The plan was that all groups that normally received earmarks would compete for the money. The OPM statement also indicated the arts and tourism funds would be separated.

The turnabout follows a tumultuous day Wednesday in which some two dozen representatives of arts organizations turned out in force to protest the budget proposal at the Appropriations Committee hearing at the Capitol.

Cindy Clair, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven and the president of the Connecticut Arts Alliance was among them. “It was a signal that we were heard,” she said of the new plan. But she quickly added that the time frame for any change in the next fiscal year was still too soon.

Arts groups were aware of the Malloy administration’s desire to move from a system of earmarks to a more competitive one. But they had been repeatedly told that shift would not come before the fiscal 2014 year.

“It’s just a few months from the beginning of a new fiscal year,” Clair said. “I think that’s what’s really difficult for organizations. We’re all beginning to do budget planning, and it’s difficult to do planning without some degree of certainty.”