Way back in February, Kansas' Republican Governor Sam Brownback signed an executive order to eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission.
But then, the following month, the state Senate (controlled by his own party, by the way) voted 24-13 to essentially override his executive order and save the Arts Commission. We documented how the Kansas Arts Commission achieved that legislative victory back in March here.
Once the executive order had been overturned, and the Arts Commission preserved, lawmakers tentatively agreed to set aside $689,000 to fund the agency in next year's budget.
Which is why what happened this week came as such a shock to the folks at the Kansas Arts Commission. The Arts Commission got a letter from the Brownback administration on Tuesday saying its staff will be laid off, effective June 10, and the agency will be shut down.
The letter cited a "lack of funding" for the Arts Commission, which is leading lots of people to presume that Governor Brownback plans to use a line-item veto to eliminate the funding for the Arts Commission that the legislature plans to include in the budget.
I spoke this afternoon with Henry Schwaller -- he's the chairman of the Kansas Arts Commission. He says the agency's office is already closed and at least two employees' email accounts have been suspended.
"This is an absolute power play and a backdoor maneuver," he says. "It has nothing to do with arts and everything to do with ideology."
Mr. Schwaller says the Arts Commission was not in imminent danger of running out of money and he doesn't believe Governor Brownback had the legal standing to force the layoffs in the first place.
"We had contacted the Kansas Attorney General's office last week. We were told there was no requirement to do this -- that we could wait until the [legislative] session was over," Mr. Schwaller says. "This was just a quick maneuver [by Governor Brownback] to see how far he could go."
The legislature is expected to take up the budget soon. Assuming they do include that $689,000 in funding for the Arts Commission and Governor Brownback does line-item veto it, Mr. Schwaller says he'll lobby the legislature for an override. For that, he says, he'll need a 2/3 majority vote in both the state House and Senate. And, while he's confident about the Senate, he admits those votes won't be easy to come by in the House.
As he heads into this uphill political battle, Mr. Schwaller is framing his argument in mostly economic terms.
"This move will ultimately impact 4,000 jobs across the state and indirectly another 37,000 jobs in the creative arts economy in Kansas. ... This is about the importance of the arts in innovation and and making the state competitive and in quality of life, particularly in rural areas."
It looks like this is where his arts jobs numbers are coming from: Kansas Citizens for the Arts.