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Measure to cut Oklahoma arts funding won't advance, bill's author says

The lawmaker says the measure, which would have reduced state funding to the Oklahoma Arts Council each fiscal year by 25 percent, is dead on arrival.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: January 30, 2013

A measure that proposed to eventually eliminate all funding to the Oklahoma Arts Council won't advance this year, the bill's author said Tuesday.

Rep. Josh Cockroft said House Bill 1895 has been assigned to the House of Representatives Rules Committee, where it is unlikely to get a hearing this year.

“They didn't have support for it,” said Cockroft, referring to GOP leaders in the House where Republicans have a 72-29 majority. “It's dead on arrival, basically.

“I'm OK with that,” said Cockroft, R-Tecumseh. “I wasn't presenting it just to get a bill passed. It's to merely point to a bigger conversation which I think we need to be having — which is, can we make sure that every dollar's going where it absolutely needs to go?”

House Majority Floor Leader Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, said HB 1895 was assigned to the House Rules Committee because Cockroft listed the measure as his ninth priority. House members are limited to filing eight bills in a session.

“All bills over eight go to Rules,” Peterson said.

HB 1895 called for reducing state funding to the Arts Council each fiscal year by 25 percent. The appropriation from lawmakers was to end in 2017.

The Arts Council is seeking a $500,000 increase for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Half would be to pay for community arts programs and the other half would be for arts education programs. The council provides grants to communities and schools; grant money not spent is returned to the council and used in the next fiscal year.

Cockroft's measure was widely criticized. Several lawmakers said privately they would not have voted for it.

Sen. James Halligan, chairman of a Senate budget subcommittee on education, said he opposed the measure. He said he would have been surprised if the measure had passed the Legislature.

“If you're interested in economic development, you've got to have cultural development at the same time,” said Halligan, R-Stillwater. “They're intimately linked.”

Rep. Lee Denney, chairman of the House budget subcommittee on common education, said she supported the Arts Council, which allows the state to be culturally rich and diverse.

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