The province’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services has recommended that arts funding be made a high priority in the 2011/12 budget. The bipartisan committee, which has been conducting hearings throughout the province since September 15, released its recommendations today.
For the second year in a row, the committee called on the province to return arts funding to 2008/09 levels. It also recommended that eligibility criteria for community gaming grants be revisited, and that the government reinstate gaming grants for three years to provide stability.
The Alliance for Arts and Culture’s executive director Amir Ali Alibhai said that while he welcomed the recommendations, a return to the 2008/09 B.C. Arts Council budget of $19 million would still leave the province in last place when it comes to arts funding. (In fact, in 2008, the committee had recommended increasing the B.C. Arts Council’s budget to $32 million.)
“Although they’re high compared to what we have now, they’re still the lowest in the country,” he pointed out. He was more enthusiastic about the recommendations regarding gaming grant eligibility. “That’s the more significant,” he said. “Those eligibility criteria have prolonged the hard times for the sector.” He also noted that the committee made “really strong recommendations last year, and they weren’t followed, so I don’t know what the outcome will be.”
NDP arts critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said he was skeptical that the recommendations would actually be implemented. He noted that prior to the report’s release, outgoing premier Gordon Campbell committed to a 15 percent reduction in tax rates on all income up to $72,000, effectively gobbling up the $650 million in “unanticipated revenues” Finance Minister Colin Hansen had asked the bipartisan committee to seek input on. On November 3, the committee’s NDP members withdrew in protest over the premier’s surprise tax break.
“I’m worried that the whole consultation process was actually a bit of a sham,” said Chandra Herbert. “You can’t say here, we’ve discovered we have an extra $600 million because of increased revenues we hadn’t expected, and then before the committee can even report out to the public you’ve already consigned where that $600 million is going to.”