Line Item Policies

When receiving annual legislative appropriations, state arts agencies (SAAs) sometimes encounter the reality that they have little control over parts of their appropriation, typically referred to as line items. Line items “pass through” an agency’s budget directly to another entity. State and jurisdictional legislatures earmark recipients and amounts, while the state arts agency usually holds little or no influence over how the recipient will ultimately use the money.

Line items present various opportunities for state arts agencies. Line items can be useful for leveraging additional arts dollars and for funding large-scale projects (such as capital construction for facilities) that may fall outside of a state arts agency’s grant programs. Another positive effect can be that legislators get a sense of participation and ownership in arts activities, which some agencies see as a way to bolster more general support in the future.

However, line items also carry significant risks and challenges. Line item funds might not be spent in accordance with SAA goals, and might bypass SAA policies that ensure equity in fund distribution. In extreme circumstances, they discourage arts organizations from working in partnership with their state arts agency, and make it difficult for arts advocates to present a unified message to legislative decision makers. Additionally, recipients of line items rarely have to report those dollars to either the state arts agency or the legislature, making accountability difficult.

For most SAAs that receive line items, another challenge is deciding what type of grantee relationship is appropriate to maintain with line item recipients. Agencies have adopted a variety of strategies:

  • Prohibit line item recipients from receiving any SAA grants.
  • Prohibit line item recipients from receiving certain types of grants.
  • Informally consider overall state funding, including line items, in grant-making decisions.
  • Allow line item recipients access to the full range of SAA grants and programs.

See the table of selected line item policies for information on how some individual states have approached this challenge.

For more information on line items, contact Ryan Stubbs.

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