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Bill seeks to eliminate funding for Oklahoma Arts Council

January 24, 2013|By Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times Art Critic
  • State Rep. Josh Cockroft (R-Tecumseh) has written a bill to eliminate funding for the Oklahoma Arts Council
State Rep. Josh Cockroft (R-Tecumseh) has written a bill to eliminate funding…

The arts in Oklahoma generate about $29 million in annual tax revenue for state coffers, according to a 2010 study by Americans for the Arts. So what does 23-year-old State Representative Josh Cockroft (R-Tecumseh) want to do?

Eliminate the $4-million annual state subsidy to the Oklahoma Arts Council.

And why does he want to do it?

As a cost-saving measure, of course.

"The time has come to set priorities and to exercise spending discipline," Cockroft wrote to constituents in a letter defending his introduction of a bill to wipe out state arts funding. The letter purports to champion government efficiency, offering up a mathematical hallucination that might help to explain why, according to Sunshine Review, the state faces a debt of more than $36 billion.

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Someone needs to read Aesop's story of the goose and the golden egg to young Rep. Cockroft.

The short-sighted plan to cook the arts goose is in fact being driven by ideology, not arithmetic. Cockroft's measure, scheduled to be formally introduced Feb. 4, came out of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a local right-wing think tank modeled on Washington's Heritage Foundation.

The council has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a private "bill mill" for state legislation funded by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. Oklahoma is following neighboring Kansas, where Koch Industries is headquartered, to eradicate public arts funding.

De-funding the arts is a privatizing scheme. “The Arts Council can operate solely from donations and self-generated funds, without receiving state appropriations," the OCPA asserted in March. Cockroft concurs, noting in his letter that he agrees with OCPA "wholeheartedly."

As a state government agency, however, the Oklahoma Arts Council notes that in fact it cannot raise its own funding. Nor does Crockroft's letter say how, exactly, $4 million in existing private donations likely to be diverted away from arts programs across the state to fund the agency might be made up. Finally, the state would also lose its $750,000 federal grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, further widening the funding gap.

Cockroft supports the so-called state sovereignty movement, last week co-writing the Oklahoma Firearms Freedom Act that would exempt guns or ammunition made in Oklahoma from federal regulations, such as the assault weapons ban just introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). He also supported a recent ALEC-sponsored "personhood" amendment to the state constitution, declaring that a fertilized egg in a woman's womb has full rights to due process and equal treatment of a person.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court invalidated the amendment. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the high court agreed with "personhood" opponents who argued that, in addition to banning legal abortion, the amendment would block use of many forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization.

In light of the new move against the Oklahoma Arts Council, Cockroft apparently believes that private decision-making is terrible for women but excellent for the arts.

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