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The arts economy is hurt by federal, state budget cutting

August 3, 2011 | 10:45 am

Budget protest
CNN reported Tuesday that Tea Party obstruction to the routine passage of a bill to raise the debt ceiling cost U.S. taxpayers at least $18 million. "That's the amount of additional interest the government had to pay investors Monday to sell Treasury bills that finance its operations," the report explained.

In the scheme of things like the federal budget, of course, $18 million is pocket change. I imagine it's what gets lost on an annual basis down under the sofa cushions at the Pentagon.

Still, I was struck by another comparison that could be made: The unnecessary expense amounts to nearly 12% of the entire annual budget of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Yes, 12%. That figure edges toward twice the budget cut administered to the tiny agency by Congress for the next fiscal year. One big reason that matters: jobs.

The embrace of Herbert Hooverism during our national unemployment crisis, feverishly cutting deficits rather than spending massively to create jobs, affects the cultural economy as much as it does heavy manufacturing, tourism or any other sector. The stock market has been expressing its displeasure in recent days.

Even South Carolina, hotbed of Tea Party fervor, understands. Tea Party-backed Gov. Nikki Haley tried to zero out her state arts commission's budget earlier this year, but a coalition of supporters in the Republican-controlled statehouse overturned her plan by huge margins. In January the arts commission's executive director told the State newspaper that "there's a substantial grass-roots base for the arts, and public funding of the arts" in South Carolina -- and he was proved right.

Among the stakes: 78,000 South Carolina jobs, plus more than $9 billion in related tax revenues.

The point is not that the $18 million tossed down a rathole on Monday is a huge, make-or-break amount of money in the federal budget. The point is that the NEA's current allocation of $155 million, already down 7.5% from last year and now pushed back to 2009 levels, is beyond puny.

It's also headed in exactly the wrong direction.

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— Christopher Knight

@twitter.com/KnightLAT

Photo: Activists demonstrate near Wall Street in protest of the massive budget cuts in the debt-ceiling deal. Credit: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

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