Kansas Legislature Fails to Override Governor’s Elimination of State Arts Commission

June 1, 2011; Source: Greenwich Time (AP) | The legislature needed a two-thirds vote to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s cancellation of the entire budget of the Kansas Arts Commission. A majority of those voting were in favor of saving the commission, but a 50 to 44 vote (all 44 were Republicans) wasn’t enough. Interesting is that 25 Republicans and six Democrats didn’t vote or were somehow absent.

His line-item veto wiped out the Commission’s budget, though anticipating this action, the governor’s office informed the staff that they would all be laid off anyhow. By killing the commission, the governor also spurned an $800,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts and $400,000 from the Mid-America Arts Alliance.

Conservatives are pleased with the Governor’s action. The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity defended Brownback against a spate of criticism his action attracted from arts groups, with its Kansas state director saying, “[No one] should be compelled to have part of their tax bill fund the tastes of those on an arts commission. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Some may enjoy Picasso or listening to Beethoven. Others may prefer a Dogs Playing Poker painting."

That Brownback is a true arts visionary. He told the press that he expects other states to follow his lead, suggesting that a private foundation could take over the functions of the Arts Commission. As the governor explained, "While we may be a trend-setter now in the area, I think you're going to see a number of states pursue this very same avenue. This is a good trend. It's so that you focus your budget items in core areas more so than in areas that we can afford to pay for off the private side."

Kansas has become the only state in the nation without a state arts commission, congratulations Gov. Brownback. If you believe and work in the arts in Kansas, you may find that due to Gov. Brownback, you can’t go home again.—Rick Cohen