Schaefer plan digs into refund dollars to help fund state's arts agencies

January 24, 1992|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Staff Correspondent

Annapolis -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer wants to add a new ingredient to the traditional arts fund-raising recipe of phone-a-thons and mail campaigns: a tax check-off.

Governor Schaefer told leaders in the arts community gathered in Annapolis yesterday that he would push legislation that would allow Marylanders to pledge all -- or part -- of their tax refunds to the arts.

"Some people have said to me that art is really a luxury," he said. "I try to explain to them that art is part of our society. It's an important part of education, an extremely important part of economic development . . . and of our quality of life."

He spoke at the presentation of the report by the Governor's Commission on the Future of the Arts in Maryland, a group of 52 arts, business and community leaders assembled last fall to find new sources of arts funding and to strengthen support for the state's arts programs.

The governor's proposed tax check-off would allow taxpayers to designate portions of their refund checks to the Maryland State Arts Council, the agency which distributes the state's art monies. Those who owe taxes could also pledge money. Mr. Schaefer did not estimate how much money the program might raise.

"It's a very good, cost-effective way to allow people to contribute to the arts," said James Backas, executive director of the arts council.

In the last year, the state has cut $828,757, or a little more than 10 percent, from the arts council's budget. It has reduced the amounts of money going to qualified arts groups from nearly 10 percent two years ago to not quite 8 percent today.

Kim Craine, spokesman for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in Washington, said many state arts councils are exploring ways to stabilize their arts funding.

"If you're an organization trying to plan and put together a budget, it is very, very difficult when legislative appropriations go up and down," he said. "As we saw last year, state budgets were being revised every month. . . . It's very difficult for any kind of business to operate when its revenue is being jerked around."

Alabama is one of several states with an income tax check-off program for the arts. It uses the $35,000-$45,000 it collects each year to subsidize the trips of school children to various arts events, said Al Head, director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

The governor's commission on the arts, headed by George L. Bunting Jr., former head of Noxell Corp., called for expanding the educational and advocacy roles of the arts council and of the Maryland Citizens for the Arts, the state's premiere private arts advocacy group.

Among other recommendations, the commission report called for the Greater Baltimore Committee, Maryland Chamber of Economic Growth Associates and local chambers of commerce to work with arts leaders to set standards of charitable giving for businesses. The commission proposed that companies should donate at least 15 percent of their charitable contributions to the arts.

Mr. Bunting said special task forces would work to increase arts support from businesses and foundations and to look for fund-raising opportunities in tax areas outside of general funds. (Other states have raised money from vanity license plates and through such programs as special lotteries and annual corporate filing fees.)

In order to ensure city and county arts support, the commission called for the legislature to require subdivisions and their resident arts organizations to match the funds they receive from the state arts council.

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