State funding for art in public places could be on the chopping block this legislative session.
Members of the House State Affairs Committee today heard testimony on a bill that would relieve the state of its responsibility to dedicate 1 percent of funding for construction of public buildings to works of art for display in those facilities.
Rep. Bill Stoltze, a Chugiak Republican, said he introduced House Bill 215 because the additional percent spent on art costs too much in a tight budget year. Stoltze, however, did not know how much cutting the program would save.
"I'm looking at it from the fiscal aspect; that's 1 percent of our cost, and as we progress on more school construction and permit new projects we have to spend each dollar much more intelligently and weigh all the costs," Stoltze said.
He said he recently learned from the Department of Corrections that a new prison in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough would cost an extra $1.3 million due to the 1 percent for art requirement.
"On a prison, I'd rather put that on officer safety or more beds," Stoltze said.
Similarly, Stoltze said in a sponsor statement on the bill: "In the case of school facilities, I feel that providing additional laboratory space, playground equipment and a myriad of other needs are far more important than percent for art expenditures,"
In 1975, the Legislature created the percent for art program, which includes public facilities such as schools, ferries, office and court buildings, and any other buildings designed for substantial public use. Funds generated from the projects are placed in the Art in Public Places Fund.
Since the program was created, the Legislature has tried to amend or eliminate the program a number of times.
In 1977, the Legislature reduced the amount set aside for rural public schools to half a percent. Another bill in 1997 would have eliminated the fund, but the measure died in committee.
Charlotte Fox, executive director for the Alaska State Council on the Arts, which helps oversee the program, said there is no clear method on how the Art in Public Places Fund is supposed to work.
"The statutes that deal with the percent for arts and the Art in Public Places Fund were very well intentioned but didn't give anybody real authority to really oversee the programs or have any real enforcement," Fox said.
She noted the arts council often is not aware if a new project is beginning construction or if the 1 percent has been set aside.
Regardless of the shortcomings of the program, Fox said it should not be abolished.
"It's a very important program ... it's a vital program, it provides jobs to Alaskans, and it basically doesn't cost the state any money - there's no money that comes out of the operating budget for this program," she said. "It's a win-win program in my mind."
But Rep. Bob Lynn, an Anchorage Republican, noted dedicating 1 percent of the budget of a project to art does increase the cost of the project.
The committee said it would contact the Department of Transportation, which has final authority over the program, to find out more about the financial impacts of Stoltze's bill. The panel held the bill for further consideration.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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