Arts Groups Try to Pre-Empt Talks of Cuts

Politics

Arts Groups Try to Pre-Empt Talks of Cuts

Councilman Chris Cate has mentioned cutting back on the arts as the coronavirus forces tough budget decisions. The city gives grants to many nonprofits to help with events and capital expenses that drive culture and tourism in San Diego.

Jonathon Glus, the executive director of the Commission for Arts and Culture, which is responsible for overseeing the city’s grants to arts organizations. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

This post originally appeared in the April 11 Politics Report. Get the Politics Report delivered to your inbox.

Two weeks ago in the Politics Report (a “week” is a measurement of time demarcated by seven days and it has been two of those since the report we’re discussing came out — just to help you get situated if you, like us, could use some guide posts to mark the passage of time), we reviewed some of the decisions the city and county were going to have to make soon.

One of the biggest is coming up: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has the fun job right now of preparing both a mid-year modification to the budget and a draft of next year’s budget. A budget, to review, is a plan for how you will spend money in the coming year and what limitations city managers have in how they spend it. But it is based on how the economy is going to perform and how much the city government will make from that.

And we really have no idea what the economy is going to do and the people who do make those estimations are being real downers these days.

So estimating what the tax revenue will be for a city is brutal. But we do know it’s bad so you can just decide to assume city budgeting is going to be really painful. The mayor’s going to have to realign last year’s expectation and then plan next year’s.

We’ll be watching what cuts he aims for closely.

But knowing it’s going to be bad, we started the discussion two weeks ago about what kinds of things may be done, and we talked to Councilman Chris Cate, who mentioned, among many other things, possibly cutting back on the arts. The city gives grants to many nonprofits to help with events and capital expenses that drive culture and tourism in San Diego.

Well, we heard from the arts community: To be more specific, we got a letter from Matt Carney and Alan Ziter, the co-chair and past co-chair, respectively, of the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition. They would like you to know that the city has made many commitments to the city’s culture and funding went down the last year, contrary to Cate’s point about how much more the city had invested in it.

Several years ago, the City Council and former Mayor Jerry Sanders made a commitment to direct about 10 percent of the transient occupancy tax (which is a 10.5 percent levy on hotel bills) to arts organizations that support some of the tourism that pays for those taxes.

Carney and Ziter said it may be more than before but not close to that goal. “His statement does not tell the whole story and takes a hit at an economic sector that is fighting to sustain jobs while offering cultural enrichment in every neighborhood in San Diego,” they wrote of Cate’s comments.

Cate responded to their letter: Cate acknowledged that last year the groups got slightly less than the year before. But he pointed out that arts groups got more than 40 percent more in last year’s budget than they got five years ago. And they got that even in years when other departments had to make cuts.

“Unfortunately in these unprecedented times with millions unemployed, severe drops in tourism and sales tax revenues, and thousands of businesses potentially being shuttered, the city will have to make very difficult decisions with very limited resources,” Cate said in an email.

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