Thursday, April 26, 2018
Opinion

Joe Henderson: Misguided lawmakers starving the arts in Florida

Tallahassee lawmakers just sent powerful message to the state about what they believe is important – and what isn’t.

Guess what?

The arts aren’t important.

Oh, they will say otherwise, but their actions prove that is so much hokum and it sends an awful message.

As Andrew Meacham reported in the Tampa Bay Times, state spending for the arts throughout Florida in the coming year will be a paltry $2.6 million split among 489 cultural organizations.

Get your tin cups ready, folks.

Consider that even as the state’s economy has grown and expanded, spending for the arts has dropped from $43 million in 2014, to $25 million last year, to what we see now.

RELATED COVERAGE Theaters and museums scramble in wake of funding cuts

That ranks 48th in the country.

For the nation’s third-largest state, that’s embarrassing.

Either your state representatives couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t try find room in an $88.7 billion budget to at least keep funding at last year’s bare-bones level.

It still would have been chicken feed, but it would have been better than this.

What’s the big deal, you may ask?

The argument goes that people come to Florida for the weather. The beach. Low taxes. They don’t come here to see a snappy performance of Macbeth. Why should they care if a theatre group can’t stage a play like Of Mice and Men because it doesn’t have the money?

Because it makes this a better place to live, that’s why.

That always seems to be overlooked come budget time, when the only thing that seems to matter is whether politicians can brag that they voted for tax cuts.

There is no doubt there were many extra hands outstretched this year looking for state cash. The aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the Parkland slaughter, and beefed-up school security certainly had to be high priority items.

PREVIOUS STORY: As Florida dramatically slashes arts funding, theaters and museums scramble

But that’s just an excuse for taking the chopping axe to the arts. With even minimum effort, I believe funding at least could have stayed level and not forced cultural organizations around the state into full-scale panic.

In the Times story, leaders of cultural organizations throughout the area used phrases like "a kick in the groin" and "utterly decimating" to describe the landscape when the full impact of the cuts came down.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, though.

Republicans, the party that controls Tallahassee, would rather be seen as budget hawks and protectors of the public purse at all costs instead of supporters of the arts.

That’s a major insult to the people they represent, and it doesn’t really make a dent on the budget at all. Keeping funding at last year’s level would have impacted the budget by a whopping 0.028 percent.

For that savings we get, well, what?

Cuts like what we saw this year tend to hurt smaller, rural areas the most.

Maintaining a professional orchestra, keeping museums open and relevant, and making sure every person has access to enriching content costs money — often more money than organizations in smaller cities and counties can raise.

Politicians and bean counters don’t see that, though.

They see numbers on a spread sheet. They don’t see the concert that gets canceled that would have introduced kids to orchestral music.

They don’t see the museums struggling to stay open when they could be preserving vital parts of Florida’s heritage.

Yes, of course, these places will have to ask supporters for more help in the coming year. They’ll have to raise prices. They’ll also have to be more aggressive about pursuing funding grants.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s also not the answer.

In the short term, there are only so many patrons out there capable of writing the kind of checks many of these organizations will need to get through the coming year.

This budget is a mistake.

Comments
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Updated: 4 hours ago

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Published: 04/25/18
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18