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Arts Advocates On The Stump In Sacramento

March 30, 1985|JUDITH MICHAELSON | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — In this city where access is a fairly tangible measure of clout, California's arts community is beginning to flourish.

About 350 members of the California Confederation of the Arts, the state's arts advocacy (or lobbying) organization, descended upon the Capitol this week bearing dozens of acrylic roses. In their company for "Arts Day," the annual spring event of buttonholing legislators for more budget money for the arts, was actor Joe Spano ("Hill Street Blues' " Lt. Henry Goldblume), who became their most eloquent spokesman.

As it turned out, the confederation didn't need roses, or even Spano, to get them attention.

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), who this year asked to see them instead of their having to seek an appointment, not only spent 20 minutes discussing budgetary items, he also entertained them with humor and advice on dealing with Gov. George Deukmejian. Last year, Brown didn't see them at all. And, in a show of particular friendship, Brown gave the delegation a tour of the prized antiques in his swank, high-ceilinged private office.

"As you walk about," he urged, Wednesday in his conference room next to the Assembly chambers, "you should try and extract from legislators a commitment to vote for the funding, whatever number of times it is required to do so, whether it be on (a veto) override or just a straight vote."

Asserting that "the (Democratic) Legislature has never lacked for measures designed to enhance assistance to the arts" but that "in appropriations for the arts, right now the (Republican) governor is the ultimate decider," Brown noted that with such commitments for votes over the long legislative haul, the confederation can really participate in the process and "have your voices heard."

With that power behind them, Brown added, the confederation wouldn't have to be calling the governor, the governor would be phoning the committed legislators "to see if he could stop them--with the same kind of effort Ronald Reagan made on behalf of the MX missile."

Governors may not have the votes to block veto overrides, he noted with a smile, so the confederation could be in a position to threaten--"1986 is a reelection year, so you can make the threat and not have to make good on it until '86."

Several hours later, it was anything but an atmosphere of threat in which the confederation met with the governor.

For the second year in a row, Deukmejian came to the confederation's cocktail party across the street from the Capitol. While the visit hardly ensures increased dollars or a narrowing of the $3.6-million gap separating the governor and the confederation, the visit demonstrated a sign of good will. As Steven Merksamer, the governor's chief of staff who was making his first confederation-party appearance, quietly noted: "It is indicative that the governor is here."

The party also drew a score of legislators--including half a dozen or so Republicans.

The confederation's increased clout, most agree, is due to the prolific letter-writing campaign across the state last year by artists, arts organizations and citizens on behalf of the $3-million increase the Legislature had allocated to the California Arts Council over the governor's original budget proposal. There were also personal phone calls to the governor from corporate leaders such as David Packard, chairman of Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, and John Kehoe, chief executive officer of the Cook Company in the Sacramento Valley, and formerly a member of Reagan's gubernatorial cabinet.

Responding to the pressure, the governor split the difference at the end of the previous fiscal year last June, augmenting his allocation by $1.5 million.

For fiscal 1985-86, beginning July 1, the confederation is recommending a budget of $16.2 million while Deukmejian's Department of Finance is asking $12.5 million. The current budget is $11.3 million. (The figures, for programmatic or line-item convenience, include the federal supplement of nearly $1 million allocated by the National Endowment for the Arts.)

This year the confederation is also recommending a line-item of $500,000 for independent artists.

Besides roses, confederation members came armed with an "art facts" sheet showing that in the current fiscal year California spends "only 41 cents per capita of arts funding to help meet the cultural needs of our 25.2 million citizens." The paper also noted that the state ranks 33rd in the nation in the percentage of its state budget--with .0411% of its more than $30-billion budget going to its state arts agency.

The budgetary process in the Assembly Ways and Means subcommittee and in the Senate's Finance subcommittee begins in earnest next month.

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