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Arts check-off would help a bit

By Walt Braun

Though it will probably have only modest impact, we support a bill the Kansas House of Representatives passed last week that would allow Kansans to dedicate some of their annual tax returns to arts programs.

The proposal had plenty of supporters in the House, with Democrats as well as Republicans endorsing it. In a published report, state Rep. Richard Carlson, a St. Marys Republican who chairs the House Tax Committee, called it “a fine way for individuals to be able to contribute who perhaps have not had an avenue before.”

He’s right, but he’s also dressing it up a bit. Fact is, Kansans have long been encouraged to support arts programs in their communities as well as statewide, and arts agencies have made it as easy as they know how.

There’s little opposition to the tax check-off proposal, which bodes well. The greater goal is to generate enough money to enable the state to again qualify for federal and regional grants well in excess of $1 million. Those funding sources dried up last year when Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed an appropriation of $689,000 for arts programs that both houses of the Legislature had approved.

The arts check-off, as well as license plates designed to support the arts, are part of the effort to restore those grants. Trouble is, lawmakers don’t have a reliable estimate of how much revenue the tax check-off or license plates would generate. The tax check-off will cost money to get started, about $80,000, according to Richard Cram of the Kansas Department of Revenue.

And if approved, it would become the fifth such tax check-off. Others exist to raise money for Meals on Wheels, the Chickadee Check-off, military relief and breast cancer research. Their collective check-off donations last year were about $415,000, with Meals on Wheels getting the most support — $136,000.

In attracting contributors, it’s likely the arts check-off will siphon support from one or more of the other recipients. In 2006, for example, the tax check-off for Meals on Wheels generated $219,000. The next year, when two other check-offs were added, Meals on Wheels received $132,000.

It would be nice if all of these causes received the support they deserve. As for the arts check-off, any contributions would be welcome. Unfortunately, the money likely to come in via tax form check-offs will fall well short of the state funding stricken by the governor.

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