Walter Pierce

Lt. Gov. to arts community: back to square one

by Walter Pierce

Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, in a letter sent Wednesday to arts councils, arts presenters and other non-profit cultural agencies, is warning of tough times to come after Gov. Bobby Jindal signalled his plan to veto the funding sources for arts, tourism and cultural programs. According to Landrieu, Jindal’s “action places the [Office of Lieutenant Governor - Culture, Recreation & Tourism] budget back to the original cuts the Governor proposed in his executive budget.”

Jindal set off a paroxysm within the state’s cultural-arts community this spring when he announced an 85 percent cut to the Decentralized Arts Funding program, which helps underwrite everything from symphony orchestras to programming for children in public libraries and parish recreation centers to events like Festival International de Louisiane. The visceral push-back to Jindal’s proposed cuts included a jazz funeral in Baton Rouge that passed in front of the Capitol on the first day of meetings by the House Appropriations Committee.

Supporters of funding for such programming argue that Louisiana’s cultural economy — our festivals in particular — comprise the second-largest economic engine in the state behind energy exploration and production. Lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature responded with support for the arts, restoring all of Jindal’s cuts through amendments to House Bill 1, the massive appropriations bill that funds state operations.

Jindal’s veto vow has the arts-culture community once again reeling. According to Landrieu’s office:

Those original cuts will effectively reduce the state tourism marketing funds by $4.8 million, thus impacting our ability to advertise Louisiana as a premier tourism destination. It will also impact businesses of all sizes in the hospitality industry, which will suffer from fewer visitors to serve. Fewer visitors mean decreased tax dollars in the state’s general fund.
The original cuts will also force all 16 state historic sites to close to the public all but two days a week. Additionally, three new state parks scheduled to open would remain closed. An original investment of $34 million to build these parks would become a loss to the state. 
The original cuts will also result in an 85 percent cut to Decentralized Arts Funding and cause reductions in library services throughout the state.
The executive budget impairs our ability to market Louisiana, threatens educational programs offered at our State Historic Sites, and reduces the effectiveness of other programs.