December 19, 2011
From: Thomas L. Birch, Legislative Counsel
House and Senate Pass 2012 Funding, Restate 40% State Share
On Saturday, December 17, the Senate passed by a vote of 67-32 the fiscal year 2012 appropriations legislation to carry federal funding through next September for the agencies that had been left without secure funding for the fiscal year—including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The day before, December 16, the House had passed the measure, 296-121, with 147 Republicans joined by 149 Democrats voting in favor of the omnibus budget bill. The bill provides $146.255 million for the NEA (and for the National Endowment for the Humanities), the same level requested by the Obama administration and above the $135 million passed by the House in August, but less than the $155 million—the 2011 spending level—approved for 2012 by the Senate Appropriations Committee in September.
The House-Senate conference report embodying the funding agreement provides details and policy directives beyond the bill’s language, including a restatement of the congressional mandate to allot 40% of grant funds to the states in the budget for the NEA. Addressing the administration’s budget proposal to exempt funds for the Our Town initiative from the calculation of state funding, the report says: “The conferees disagree with the proposal . . . and direct that funds be distributed based on the longstanding agreement that States receive 40 percent of all appropriated grant funds.”
State partnership funds, which totaled $50.152 million in 2011 and were proposed for a cut to $44.139 million in the administration’s 2012 budget, will drop with the cut in overall NEA funding to $46.139 million. NASAA’s advocacy with Congress to preserve the 40% state allocation ensured that the $2 million owed to the states in the partnership grants was not lost.
Other directives in the appropriations conference report urge that funds for the Shakespeare in American Communities and The Big Read initiatives be maintained “at an appropriate funding level to allow a vibrant, competitive program to be maintained.” Similarly, the report disagrees with budget positions taken by the administration to eliminate the National Heritage Fellowship program and the American Jazz Masters Fellowship program, with the expectation that the NEA “continue its annual recognition of individuals with outstanding achievements in these disciplines in a similar manner to past years.”
Finally, due to the long-standing number of vacancies on the National Council on the Arts, the House-Senate conferees “encourage” the NEA to address filling those empty positions “in a timelier manner than has been the case to date.”