Legislative Forecast for the Dance Field
By Brandon Gryde
This fall, Congress faces looming decisions around the budget and the debt ceiling, while also working on such big issues as tax and immigration reform and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind. Additionally, sequestration was not a once-and-done deal, but part of a 10-year plan to reduce the deficit and this will very much impact appropriations.
As one of the core services offered to members, Dance/USA actively advocates for and lobbies on behalf of the issues that create an impact on the field of dance. While we work in a variety of coalitions to increase the visibility of nonprofits and the arts, Dance/USA is the only organization representing dance groups before the White House, Congress, and Federal agencies. Below is a rundown of the issues that Dance/USA will focus on in the coming months.
Even with the impact of sequestration on the 2013 fiscal year, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) came out relatively unscathed. Due to funding from a year-long continuing resolution, the NEA’s budget was mostly level with the funding from FY2012. However this year, budgets from the House and the Senate vary widely and it’s unclear where the NEA’s budget will fall. The House budget proposes cutting the agency by almost 50 percent, leaving it with a budget of $79 million. This comes at a time when the NEA has already made cuts to the amount of funds allocated to grants, decreased staff travel, and eliminated in-person panel reviews for grant applications. The agency is attempting to increase outreach through technology and the draft 2014-2018 strategic plan still includes the goal of reaching every Congressional district. (Dance/USA also submitted comments for the strategic plan.) The Senate’s budget recommendation reinstates funding for the NEA that is equal to the President’s request, at $154.5 million. Dance/USA signed on to a letter for the Cultural Advocacy Group thanking lawmakers in the Senate for their support.
Congress will likely pass a short-term continuing resolution through mid-December which would provide level funding to the NEA in the near term, with the possibility of a longer term CR for the rest of the year. However, unlike 2013 where sequestration impacted the government evenly, Congress will be able to pick and choose where the cuts are taken, leaving the NEA vulnerable.
Tax and Nonprofits
It may come as a surprise to learn that Dance/USA spends more time advocating for the preservation of charitable giving incentives than the NEA, but the threat to the charitable deduction and other incentives for giving are very real and could impact all nonprofit dance groups. It may come as a surprise to learn that Dance/USA spends more time
advocating for the preservation of charitable giving incentives than the
NEA, but the threat to the charitable deduction and other incentives
for giving are very real and could impact all nonprofit dance groups. The President once again proposed in his 2014 budget to limit itemized deductions, including the charitable deduction, to 28 percent. Before the tax rates increased last year, there were estimates that this would decrease giving by between $1 billion and $7 billion. Other proposals included a monetary cap on the deduction or implementing a floor for giving that would trigger a deduction only if an individual’s giving passed a certain percentage of the donor’s adjusted gross income. Both of these options would reduce the amount individuals give (based on research from Martin Feldstein, National Association of Homebuilders, and others).
Within the context of proposed tax reform, Dance/USA has made numerous visits to Congressional offices with Independent Sector, a nonpartisan coalition addressing policy that impacts nonprofit organizations, and as part of the Charitable Giving Coalition, an ad hoc coalition that focuses specifically on preserving the charitable deduction. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) took a “blank slate” approach to tax reform and asked their colleagues to send letters detailing which provisions should be preserved. Concerned that this could affect their relationship with constituents, senators were guaranteed that their letters would be sealed for 50 years.
The prospects of comprehensive reform are uncertain, especially in light of debt ceiling and budget negotiations. Nonetheless, Senate Finance Committee leadership is aiming to mark up a bill this fall, and the budget crunch may once again make the charitable deduction vulnerable as a revenue option. (Dance/USA will be joining the Charitable Giving Coalition on a “Hill Day” on November 20, 2013. Dance/USA organizational members are invited to attend and should contact me before November 8 if interested.)
While many dance companies have found the process of securing O and P visas more efficient of late, Dance/USA continues to work to enact a policy that would require timely processing. Most recently, the ARTS (Arts Require Timely Service) provision, which would ensure timely processing by or on behalf of nonprofit arts-related organizations, was introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Hatch as part of the Senate’s immigration reform bill. Dance/USA continues to meet with policy leaders on this issue and will provide updates as they occur.
Dance/USA also seeks increased support for international cultural exchange. This summer, Dance/USA Dxecutive Director Amy Fitterer and I met with leadership in the cultural programs division in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Exchange at the State Department. Sharing information about our membership and the important role of dance has played and continues to play in public diplomacy, we urged the State Department to also share more information with us, including how many cultural exchange programs occurred and where.
Dance/USA’s government affairs office works on many other issue that impact dance and nonprofit performing arts including:
- Arts In Education: Both the House and the Senate worked on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind) and Dance/USA’s government affairs office continues to add its voice in urging Congress to include the arts as a core academic subject in public schools.
- Protection for Wireless Microphone Users: Recently, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) proposed legislation that would protect wireless microphone users from interference and provide increased legitimacy by providing partial licensing. Dance/USA works with a Wireless Microphone coalition, which includes members of the Performing Arts Alliance, the NFL, and NASCAR, among others, to make sure performing arts groups and venues do not shoulder the burden of additional expenses during the repackaging for spectrum auctions.
What can Dance/USA’s government affairs office do for you?
If you plan on being in the Washington, D.C., area and wish to meet with your members of Congress, contact the office at least two weeks in advance and Dance/USA will coordinate the meeting, provide you with the essential tools needed to speak on these and other relevant issues with your legislators. We will even attend the meeting with you.
- Are you a member and need a peer consultation letter for a petition for foreign guest artists? Dance/USA provides these letters for free.
- Are there issues that have an impact on dance and the performing arts at the local level that may later turn into national issues?
- Or are there issues important to you and other dancers or organizations not yet covered by Dance/USA?
Share your thoughts with the government affairs office.
For any of these services, contact Brandon Gryde, director of government affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-833-1717.
Brandon Gryde is director of government affairs for both Dance/USA and OPERA America. Prior to that he served two years as director of communications for Youth Service America, an international youth engagement organization, where he worked to increase awareness about the positive impact children and youth make in their communities through service and service-learning. Prior to moving to Washington, D.C., Brandon spent more than seven years at Jump Street, an innovative community arts organization in Harrisburg, Penn. He managed a state re-granting initiative in partnership with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and launched AND Magazine, a quarterly arts and healthy lifestyles publication written by teens, for teens. Brandon has a B.A. in Ethnomusicology and American Literature and Culture from UCLA and an M.A. in American Studies from Penn State.
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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in guest posts do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of Dance/USA.