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Eye On Boise

Arts Commission thanks lawmakers for donations to its small budget

After last year’s Idaho Commission on the Arts budget was unexpectedly defeated on the floor of the House in an unrelated squabble between House Democrats and Republicans, lawmakers drafted a new version with just one difference: An extra $200 from legislators’ private donations to add to the budget for arts education projects. Michael Faison, commission director, told legislative budget writers this morning that a total of $250 came in. It came from donations from representatives, senators, and “even some members of the press corps threw in some bucks,” he said. “It was sweet, it was just kind.”

He said the additional money was “put to good use,” going directly to arts grants to children’s education programs around the state.

Faison presented the commission’s budget to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning. Gov. Butch Otter is recommendation a nearly flat budget, with just a $2,600 increase in state general funds; that comes to a 0.3 percent increase in the commission’s $785,500 budget, covering only increased personnel costs and cybersecurity insurance.  Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, looked at the agency’s total budget, including dedicated and federal funds, of $1.96 million, and calculated that given Idaho’s population, it’s spending roughly a dollar per person on the arts.

“Just wondering, how do we compare nationwide with our dollar allocation for service?” Nye asked. Faison responded, “We compare about the top of the lower third in the nation in per-capita support for the arts in Idaho, which is not a bad position. Certainly other states support it at a much higher level per capita. We’re right at the top of the bottom third of the nation.”

Last year, when the arts budget came up on the floor of the House, eight House Democrats joined 29 Republicans to kill the appropriation bill, to make a point that their votes count; the Democrats were upset that their bills weren’t getting hearings. A group of Republican House members had been voting against most or all budget bills, though the Legislature’s most basic job during its session each year is to pass a budget, as required by the Idaho Constitution; that provided the opening for the Dems to tip the scale. The House then reconsidered its vote, and all 14 House Democrats voted yes, as did 17 Republicans, but 36 Republicans voted no, narrowly rejecting the reconsideration. JFAC, which had finished agency budget-setting that morning, then had to reconvene and pass a new budget with at least some small difference, as the same rejected amount couldn’t be proposed again. That led to the legislative donations.

“It was never about us,” Faison said. “We were the kid that generally most people liked and we were walking across the schoolyard, and a couple of others took swings at each other, and we got hit. … When everybody realized it, they apologized.” He added, “We enjoy strong bipartisan support, we do.”

The House’s final vote last year on the Arts Commission budget was 51-17.

Faison said, “We just try to do good things in a frugal way.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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