Museums need budget stability
The Great Recession and shifting political priorities have driven down levels of state funding for just about everything, from education to social services. Few institutions have been hit as hard as museums.
According to the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, state funding of non-state-owned museums declined from $29.3 million in the 2005-2006 fiscal year to $2.7 million in 2011-2012. Over the same period, funding for 26 state-operated museums and historic sites has fallen from $39.8 million to $26 million.
The reductions have had predictable results - reduced staff, fewer operating hours, fewer exhibits, more staff time spent on fundraising, and so on. They also have resulted in a study by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee that offers some insight and one especially key recommendation to put museums on firmer footing.
The committee's survey of museum directors, for example, found that the chief concern was not money alone but predictable budgeting. That produced a recommendation for multi-year budget appropriations for museums.
Also, the committee recommended better coordination and oversight for grants that are used for purposes other than operations funding. It found that grants often violate state law and regulations, and that there is little coordination among three state agencies that offer museum grants.
The key recommendation, though, was to use the models available from other states to establish a dedicate state-level source of museum funding.
Minnesota dedicates a percentage of sales tax revenue to museums. Arizona uses a portion of business filing fees. California and Tennessee dedicate a portion of license plate revenues. West Virginia and Colorado use some gambling revenue. Texas uses interest from a museum trust and license plate revenue. New Jersey uses a piece of its hotel tax. Alabama and Virginia use income tax check-offs.
Pennsylvania lawmakers should help to stabilize funding for museums through predictable budgeting and a dedicated revenue source.