If you're a fan of either theater or history, grab a front-row seat in the House chamber when lawmakers debate arts funding.
During a committee debate over budget cuts, Rep. D. Craig Horne, R-Union, an appropriations committee vice-chair, observed that Prime Minister Winston Churchill ensured the arts were funded in Great Britain during World War II.
Not so fast, Rep. Dana Bumgardner, R-Gaston, replied: "Churchill did spend money on art during the war. And as soon as the war was over, he was voted out of office."
Fact check: The prime minister of Great Britain is not an elected office.
Historical fact notwithstanding, two initiatives substantially restored some of the cuts that had been initially approved by House Appropriations subcommittee. As a result, the House's reductions to the arts would total $597,000 over the next two years, down from the original figure of $1.45 million.
As INDY Week reported June 12, the General Government subcommittee recommended cutting that amount from the N.C. Arts Council (NCAC) budget through 2015. The figure included a $1 million slashing that would reduce the council's staff by a third.
One concession reduced the administrative cuts to $500,000. The Department of Cultural Resources, which oversees the NCAC, would then have flexibility to determine the source of the remaining $500,000 in cuts.
But last week, Rep. Rena Turner, R-Iredell, introduced an 11th-hour amendment restoring $360,000 to administrative funding. The money would have come from the state Department of Revenue's budget for auditors.
The development caught some of Turner's colleagues off guard. Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, a vice-chair of the House's Finance Committee, claimed that a backlog of more than 700 audits would not be conducted if Turner's amendment was approved.
"In other words," Stam dramatically concluded, "a core government function is not going to happen."
Stam's pleas did not sway Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, who mused, "I used to work a little bit in the summertime at my grandparents' farm. We used to clean out stalls. And in reference to Rep. Stam's statement, I could never have piled it that high."
A negotiated amendment was introduced just before 7 p.m., restoring $360,000 not for administration but for the state's arts grants programs. The measure passed, 107-9.
Still to be determined: where another $500,000 would be trimmed from the Department of Cultural Resources. And none of these negotiations affects the state Senate's budget proposal, which calls for $2.68 million in cuts.
Arts supporters will watch closely as the two chambers appoint a conference committee to craft a final version of the budget to be presented to Gov. Pat McCrory later this month.
This article appeared in print with the headline "High drama in the House."