The Norman Transcript

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January 23, 2013

Lawmaker wants to eliminate OAC funding

OKLAHOMA CITY — A bill filed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives proposes all funding to the Oklahoma Arts Council (OAC) be eliminated.

The legislation, written by state Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, would reduce state government funding to the OAC each fiscal year by 25 percent, eventually ending the appropriation in 2017.

The first reading takes place Feb. 4. If passed, the bill will become effective July 1. Cockroft said the bill may be assigned to a committee next week.

Cockroft said his intent in writing HB 1895 is to simplify state spending and focus on funneling state tax dollars to core government functions like education.

“My goal with this bill isn’t to destroy the arts in Oklahoma. It’s actually quite contrary. I personally have been involved in the arts over the last couple of years,” Cockroft said. “I think there is a need and an incredible desire for that here in Oklahoma. The question is: Is that the state government’s responsibility?”

The state appropriates $4 million to the OAC every year, Cockroft said.

According to the OAC website, $4 million is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the state budget, with 80 percent of funding going directly to communities across the state. Those funds support Oklahoma’s $314.8 million nonprofit arts and cultural industry and more than 10,000 jobs. The industry generates $29 million in state and local tax revenue.

Joel Gavin, OAC director of marketing and communications, said about 85 percent of OAC’s budget comes from state appropriations, with the remainder coming from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA grant is contingent upon the state having an arts council, so the bill threatens NEA funding as well. Without state funding, it’s more than just the OAC suffering.

“If HB 1895 passes, funding for over 300 organizations in communities throughout the state would be gone. Development services for individuals, organizations and communities that strengthen the cultural infrastructure of our state would be gone,” Gavin said. “Funding for arts education programs serving nearly 195,000 students at 750 school sites would be eliminated.

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