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Hidden Politics: De-funding Virginia’s Historical and Cultural Institutions

By Corrigan Blanchfield | May 25, 2011 | No Comments

This past January, in the middle of another budgetary showdown, Attorney General Cuccinelli released a legal opinion that Virginia’s State Constitution does not permit the General Assembly, or any other legislative body, to appropriate state funds for private charitable groups. While the goal of fiscal conservatism may be admirable, outright halting of funding for these organizations, already struggling because of recession-mandated budget cuts, could be disastrous in the long term.

It should come as no surprise that many of the organizations set to be de-funded are historical or cultural institutions - the arts have long been a political target for some.  However, the Attorney General’s opinion also affects funding for public-health organizations that are integral to the well-being of low-income Virginians, ending subsidies for free clinics and the Virginia Health Care Foundation. These are common victims of budget hawks as well, but the long-term ramifications of de-funding must be considered.

Since 2008, funding for both cultural and public health organizations has been cut to the bone, along with general reductions in spending across Virginia’s budget. These cuts, while perhaps reluctant, encountered little resistance, as these sorts of programs have historically been funded depending on the financial standing of the Commonwealth in any given year (for the curious, the record for this sort of funding is $45 million in the late 1990s, nearly double the amount that state legislators requested for inclusion in this year’s budget). However, so little state money has been marked for use by private charities in the last few years that Attorney General Cuccinelli’s opinion seems almost entirely politically motivated.

In time, Virginia will once more see a budget surplus, and to continue withholding state funds from these politically-neutral organizations, the backbone of Virginia’s rich historical culture and the state’s public health safety net, even when the state is able to afford the expense, is a tremendous error.

The intent of the Constitution is noble, seeking to prevent state funding of politically-aligned charities, but the Attorney General’s opinion would disallow the accurate labeling of these necessary and neutral charities as historical and cultural institutions, leaving them high and dry and showing a concerning lack of commitment to Virginia’s greatest heritage - the past - and its greatest asset - the future.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of members of the NDP Steering Committee.

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