Friday, March 5, 2010

Part B: Rolls-Royce and “a Medicaid Patient’s Physical Agony"

Posted by Bruce Miller
After trying to compare, illogically, the arts to scouts, grocery stores, newspapers and places of worship in yesterday's Times-Dispatch (see my previous post, Taking On Those Who Buy Ink by the Barrel - Part A), A. Barton Hinkle moves on to pick apart the argument offered by those who believe that arts funding should stay in the state budget because of the jobs that such funding makes possible.

"Any entity that employs people provides jobs by definition," Hinkle states, "and might be said to contribute to the economic vitality of a community. If that is the standard upon which we justify state funding, then there is very little in the commonwealth that would not qualify."

This argument is gratuitous, and Hinkle knows it. He fails to mention the tens of millions that the state spends each year to create jobs in Virginia and to support the creation and sustenance of small businesses. He asks his readers to compare the nonprofit arts industry to Virginia's thriving for-profit businesses, rather than to the new and/or struggling businesses that receive state support, or the libraries and parks that are the more appropriate comparison.

Here's one specific example. Rolls-Royce is certainly a thriving for-profit business. Yet they successfully made the argument to the Virginia legislature that they needed state support if they were to build a new aircraft engine production plant in Prince George County, about 25 miles southwest of Richmond. In fact, the commonwealth put together a $56.8 million incentive package to lure Rolls-Royce to our state, and no arts-eliminator even suggests that a penny of that package be cut from this year's budget.

For the record, I think the legislature was wise to negotiate this funding, and is wise to keep it in tact. Economic development is vitally important. As Hugh Keogh, CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce told the Times-Dispatch, "If you're going to play in the big leagues, you're going to have to come to the field with more than your glove. Virginia has learned that over the past 15 years."

But if you're pro-economic development, and what reasonable person isn't, how can you scoff at spending a measly $4.4 million to support the 20,000 jobs made possible by the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and still embrace the spending of $56.8 million to support the 140 jobs that Rolls-Royce has promised?

In today's competitive environment, it's sound policy and practice to offer incentives to lure successful businesses to Virginia. If Virginia didn't do it, we'd lose employers to other neighboring states. Rolls-Royce plans to begin hiring 140 workers in the fourth quarter of 2010, but they hope to build their eventual work force to 500 Virginians. Why exactly does Hinkle think the 140 to 500 Rolls-Royce jobs matter, and the 20,000 VCA-enabled jobs don't?

Perhaps he is uninformed. Perhaps he hasn't interviewed any arts leaders, and so he has no idea that our leading arts organizations are routinely wooed by other states that would be all too happy were we to relocate our jobs to their jurisdictions.

Consider this one example. Theatre IV tours nationally to about 32 states each year. This tour generates just over $1 million in out-of-state sponsor fees that come back to Virginia. This revenue is spent by our nonprofit company to pay Virginia salaries and rents, and to buy Virginia goods and services. The Maryland Arts Council has on several occasions mentioned that they would like for Theatre IV to consider relocating its national tour to their state. As incentive, Maryland and its localities contribute to nonprofit arts organizations approximately 15% of each nonprofit's documented revenue. Were we to move our HQ to Maryland, our $1 million in national tour revenue would likely be matched by $150,000 in state and local funds. In Virginia, our national tour revenue is matched by zero dollars in state and local support.

Theatre IV has no desire to move to Maryland. Make no mistake, our HOME is here. But if the Virginia Commission for the Arts is eliminated, costing Theatre IV the approximately $95,000 that we now receive from the VCA in support of the touring instructional programs we present in about 600 Virginia schools each year, we would be idiots not to consider the viability of a move north. With his disregard for Virginia arts jobs, Hinkle may not care. But I suspect there are plenty of other Virginians who would consider the loss of the nation's second largest children's theatre to be a devastating consequence of ill-advised legislation.

Hinkle continues with the manipulative and deplorable tactic of comparing arts funding to the help needed by "a Medicaid patient's physical agony" and "a teenager with severe psychiatric problems (who) can no longer lead a semi-normal life because (the state) has chosen to fund a ballet instead?"

Friends, there is not a single artist I know who is arguing that the arts are more important than health care or mental health. Hinkle and his buddies are making up this hogwash. We cannot let the ideologues fabricate OUR side of the debate and then put it out there in the press as if we actually said it. It may be their intention to make us look self-serving and ridiculous, but we shouldn't sit quietly by and let them do it.

The point is not that anyone believes the arts are more important than helping those in need. The point is that cutting VCA funding will hurt the state budget, not help it. As I've said before, if you want more money to support the worthy causes that the state is honor-bound to fund, then argue in favor of funding the VCA. It's an economic development argument, not a matter of either / or.

The case we are making for state funding is sound. Please read my previous blog post, The REAL Case for the Arts in VA (Feb. 25, 2010). When these arguments are not taken seriously, and preposterous arguments are put in their place, the debate is no longer worthy of respect. It is politics, pure and simple.

Coming tomorrow – Part C: Replacing Brahms with Wayne and Underwood, or "Vox Populi, Take the Wheel"

--Bruce Miller

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