March 4th, 2009 5:33 pm | by BEN WATERHOUSE News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Legislature

Hey Oregon Legislators: Hands off the Cultural Trust!

Tags: Opinion
OCT license plate
So the Oregon Senate, facing a $850 million budget shortfall, has voted to appropriate $1.8 million from the Trust for Cultural Development Account of the Oregon Cultural Trust. The trust, currently valued at $12.5 million, is made up of donations (like the $88,913 donated by WW readers through our 2008 Give! Guide campaign) and proceeds from the sale of special Cultural Trust license plates—the plates you'll see on the cars of many artists around town. The money in the Account is intended to fund the arts in Oregon in good times and bad. The committee behind the budget justifies the swipe by saying that it's just the money raised by license plate sales, plus interest, and that they aren't touching the money donated by taxpayers.

This is an absurdly hollow excuse. It doesn't matter which money you're taking, Senators—that fund should be off-limits for anything but arts funding. And sure, I'm familiar with the argument that the arts are a luxury of prosperous times, and I don't buy it. During the great depression, the WPA put artists to work across the country, allowing them to eat, for one, and to do great things to lift the spirits of a dispirited people.

But that's beside the point. This is really about trust. When we plunked down the extra $35 for an OCT plate, we trusted that the money would go towards supporting the arts. And now, Senators, you're stealing it. Not re-appropriating, not repurposing—stealing.

I know the state's facing a terrible budget shortfall, and I know we're looking at frightening cuts to essential services. But if you need the cash that badly, pass a god-damn sales tax already. Don't swipe the money from arts supporters because you think we won't complain.

And don't just take it from me. Cooler-headed people than myself are just as angry about this budgetary dick move. Portland Center Stage's executive director, Greg Phillips, called the appropriation "unethical, ill-advised and short-sighted," and former Oregonian theater critic Bob Hicks has penned an impassioned protest at Art Scatter. If it's anger you want, Culture Shock is absolutely lived.

It's probably too late to do anything at this point—the budget heads to the House by Friday—but please do take a moment to write your representative and express your displeasure.
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