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Connecticut Humanities Gets Slashed in the State Budget

A state official said there's value to culture and the arts -- but in tough times, it's critical to reduce expenses.

Governor Dannel Malloy recently signed into law Connecticut’?s nearly $20 billion budget for the next year.

But he made some controversial and, some say, hardball political decisions to cut funding.

One of the items cut was $1.73 million designated for Connecticut Humanities

When lawmakers failed to vote on his Second Chance Society initiative, which included things like bail reform and other anti-recidivism proposals and was projected to save the state millions -- Malloy adjusted the budget by employing the rarely used line-item veto. One veto targeted Connecticut Humanities.

Doug Fisher, Executive Director of Connecticut Humanities, said what they stand for is the promotion of a liberal arts education, "about community conversations, about engagement with civics, with history, with our heritage, and with each other, in productive ways that lead to constructive solutions," he said. "And we do this through a wide variety of ways -- through advocacy, and specifically through programming and grant support." 

Connecticut Humanities provides competitive merit-based grants to places like libraries, small museums, cultural centers, and festivals, including the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival and the New Haven Festival of Arts and Ideas.

Fisher said the cut, which accounts for two-thirds of his operating budget, is a devastating blow.  

"We were dispensing, specifically through our grant pool, close to a million dollars per year," he said. "Which will be eliminated as of July 1. So there will be no competitive grant pool to apply to as a result of this cut."

In the scheme of things, we’re talking about a $20 billion budget. What’s $1.7 million?  

"It is a small amount compared to the overall budget," said Ben Barnes, head of Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management, "But it’s more than a million dollars, which is real money by most regular standards." 

Barnes said he’s not diminishing the value of culture and the arts, but in tough times, reducing expenses is critical.

"So much of what we do in state government is, I think, more important than one year’s support for culture and literature, however you want to describe that," said Barnes. "For instance, I think it is absolutely critical that we preserve the ability to provide access to the courts. I think a judicial system is critical our existence as a nation. I think it’s important that we sustain health care for the poor and basic income support for the poor. Because those are critical to our humanity in other ways. I think it's important that we preserve public safety. So, there are some things that I think are really key that we have to support."

The governor’s spokesman, Devon Puglia, argued the cuts didn't have to happen in the first place.

"If the legislature had passed Second Chance -- which was agreed upon, and had $15 million in cost savings -- we wouldn’t have had to take these steps," said Puglia. "It would simply be irresponsible to sign a budget that would be immediately out of balance the moment we signed it. So the bottom line is, had bail reform passed, this would not be an issue."

At a press conference last week, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides commented on the relationship between the Second Chance bill and fiscal responsibility.

"I've heard some of the governor's spokespeople in the last few weeks mention: well, it would leave a $15 million hole if we don't pass this," she said. "Well, first of all, shame on you for building it in when you have no idea if this is going to pass. But more importantly, all of a sudden, you become fiscally responsible with public safety? That's where you decide you want to save money -- when you're cutting social services, when you're cutting non-profits, when you're cutting disabled population money? Now you want to put people on the street that should be in jail?"

Other sources of state funding that benefit arts and cultural organizations were not cut, according to Barnes.

The Stony Creek Museum, located in the town of Branford, is one place that benefited from grants allocated by both the state and the Connecticut Humanities Council. Museum President Judy Robison believes every town needs to preserve its history and have a place for people to come and share it. She says without the grants they couldn't have opened the doors.

"We were able to have the handicap ramp built, we have the furnace, all new windows, insulation in the walls, which it needed. And the building has been restored," said Robison.

Making budget cuts is never easy, Barnes said.

"Funding support for the humanities was included in the state budget because it was deemed worthwhile by the legislature and the governor, and to make these decisions is extraordinarily difficult," he said.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.

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