Buoyed by the unexpected support of former Gov. Thomas Kean, New Jersey arts and history community activists and tourism industry people have launched a major lobbying effort among the 120 state legislators to regain at least some of the state aid they expect to lose as a result of Gov. Jon Corzine's decision to slash funding for arts, history research and preservation and tourism promotion by 25 percent.
B. Michael Zuckerman, a history and arts community leader, says activists fear that without additional aid, financially-struggling history and arts organizations, already stung by fewer corporate and private contributions amid the economic downturn, could be forced to curtail or shutter their operations. He noted the prestigious Newark-based New Jersey Historical Society has closed its library to the public and curtailed access in response to budget problems.
In his doomsday-like $29.8 billion budget, Corzine has cut aid for history efforts to $2.48 million, reduced funding for the arts to $14.4 million, and set aside $7.4 million for tourism promotion. So-called destination marketing organizations, which promote tourism in 16 sections of the state, would receive no support. They got $1.9 million in the 2008-09 budget.The reduction in tourism promotion comes at a time when Massachusetts and Virginia have launched early spring television ad campaigns designed, in part, to lure New Jersey vacationers out of the Garden State.
Corzine also allotted $466,000 for the New Jersey Cultural Trust, which is supposed to receive $10 million annually but has never been given more than the $722,000 it received in the 2008-09 budget.
On Wednesday, the activists pleaded their case to the Assembly Budget Committee during a lengthy public hearing in Trenton.
Cathleen Litvack, director of the Princeton-based Crossroads of the American Revolution National and State Heritage Area, told the panel, "Along with everyone, I recognize that these economic times are extraordinarily difficult and that all of us have to make choices. However, the recommended cut to the travel and tourism budget, almost 25 percent less than last year's appropriation, and similary proposed cuts to the arts and history, will undermine significant segments of New Jersey's economy. In order to ensure a vibrant, thriving cultural life and tourism industry, it requires an investment -- not as disinvestment.''
Ron Emrich, director of the Trenton-based non-profit Preservation New Jersey, said, "We see every day that history and heritage, as well as the arts and other cultural pursuits and programs, contributes not just to the spirit and livability of each community in New Jersey. They also contribute to the economic vitality of those communities''
The activists were already in motion when Kean said earlier this week that he is so angry about Corzine's plan to cut history and arts support that he is considering filing a lawsuit to prevent the proposed cuts. Kean, is the elder statesman of the Republican Party has avoided criticizing his successors in the past. "I haven't decided yet,'' he said of a potential suit. I think it's an important enough issue. My hope is the Legislature would go back and fund the arts at least up to the statutory level. The arts are funded less now than they were in the '90s when I was governor. That's outrageous."
Cozine has declined to say if he will reach out to Kean. "I have things in the budget I would prefer not be cut. it would be easy for me to criticize my own budget. But the fact is we have a lot fewer revenue (all cq) than we had last year and you have to make tough choices. These are the ones that will be debated in the Legislature.''
In shuffling the politically hot potato to the Legislature, Corzine handed the issue to Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), the Budget Committee chairman.
"God bless him,'' Greenwald said of Kean's threat yesterday. "We live in America and we live in a litigious society.'' ,
Commenting on Corzine's statement, Greenwald said, "As it always is, the procedure is he makes recommendations and we work forward together.''
Greenwald did not immediately promise additional funding. "What we are doing is challenging people,'' he said. "We are saying show us ways to raise revenue, not just take money from other people.''. Zuckerman said activists and tourism promoters also are concerned the allotments are below the funding minimums set forth in legislation that created the state's six-year-old hotel/motel occupancy tax and could trigger a "poison pill'' that would eliminate the levy. The tax generates about $80 million annually.
"We are certainly hoping to make some kind of argument to legislators, it has worked in the past,'' Zuckerman said. "The history community is working with the arts and tourism communities. Our message to legislators is we are very much part of the solution to the state's economic problems, not a drain on resources.'' Zuckerman is president of the Advocates for New Jersey History and treasurer of ArtPride New Jersey.
Zuckerman said New Jersey's non-profit arts industry generates over $1.5 billion annually in economic activity, including over $36 million in state tax revenue. He said the arts industry provides over 80,000 jobs in 17,000 arts-related businesses. He said it hosts over 34,000 public events annually and helps provide arts education for over 4 million school children.
Zuckerman said historical activities, including rehabilitation of historic properties, heritage tourism, and spending by historic sites and organization generates $580 million annually, including $14 million in state tax revenue. He said museums and history organizations provide over 21,000 jobs and host 6.4 million people, including 2 million students, each year.