Thursday, October 02, 2008

Taxpayer funding for the arts. 

I want to talk about a delicate subject—taxpayer funding for the arts. When I say "the arts," that includes a lot of stuff. But I'm going to talk about something specific.

First, though, let me say that I'm not a big fan of tax dollars going to arts programs. I know that sounds like a typical conservative position, but I think it's actually the opposite. Hopefully, by the time I finish with the post, I'll have made my reasoning clear.

This past spring, I spoke to a writers' group about six or seven hours away. They offered an honorarium, but I can't remember how much it was. Probably somewhere between $100 and $200. They also covered my lodging. I've just learned that taxpayer dollars, through the Texas Commission on the Arts, paid for my visit. And, as far as I can tell, that commission, as you would guess, is at least partially funded by the state, and they also receive some federal dollars. 

I'm going to make a broad statement based on my own opinion: It appeared that the attendees at this event could've paid for the event themselves. In fact, I'm pretty sure they did have to pay to attend, and they probably could've paid a few bucks more. None of them appeared to be living near poverty level. I don't see why the event had to receive any tax dollars instead of being self-funded. Honestly, I don't feel comfortable knowing that taxpayers footed the bill for my visit. 

Who pays to fund the commission? We all do. I don't want to get into a specific discussion about how every tax dollar is acquired and where each dollar goes—mostly because I'm not an economist and I wouldn't know the specifics—but I will say this: Every time our government—whether city, county, state or federal—spends a dollar, they have to acquire that dollar from somewhere. Some people might say, well, arts programs are only funded by dollars collected on luxury items or on sin taxes or whatever. (I'm just making that up, by the way.) But the bottom line is, if the state of Texas, for example, needs 10 bazillion dollars to meet its budget, it's going to attempt to collect 10 bazillion dollars in various taxes. If any given government can lower its budget, it can collect less revenue. Right? 

No matter how you massage the message, it appears that lower-income taxpayers are helping fund the arts. Maybe some lower-income people have no problem funding the arts, but I'm guessing many of them would rather have those funds used in another manner, or they'd prefer lower taxes. 

I talked a few weeks ago about receiving honorariums when I speak to library groups. The difference there is that those fees are typically generated by Friends of the Library groups. They raise the funds themselves, through membership dues, auctions, etc. So I'm not being paid by taxpayer dollars. (If I'm wrong about this, please, someone, let me know.) Also, if the library chooses to sell books, they can make a pretty good profit on these types of events, even after paying honorariums to authors. So it's a win-win situation. 

Anyone have any thoughts on this? I freely admit that I'm no expert on this topic, and if I've misunderstood how various funds are generated, please tell me how ignorant I am. 

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