Fast forward to the Great Erie County Budget Chaos of 2005. Deep cuts are occurring in seemingly every facet of County government. The Buffalo News continues to spread the Gospel of Austerity and Shared Pain For All. As a result, the recent news that over forty not-for profit organizations will also have their County funding slashed didn’t come as a big surprise.

If one were to ask former Bills Coach Marv Levy’s motivational question, “Where would you rather be than right here, right now?” The overwhelming collective response from the people of Erie County might be “Anywhere but here.”

This begs the question: why is all of this chaos happening right here and right now? Nothing can be done about Joel Giambra’s squandering of the tobacco settlement money, except to stop him from blowing the eighty million dollars that remain. Something, can be, and eventually will have to done to reverse deep property tax cuts made by Giambra at the start of his first term. Legal mandates will force the issue and at the end of the day this “tax revolt”, as it is called by The Buffalo News, will probably be over without a single musket shot ever being fired.

Before it’s all said and done, we might also find ourselves raising the sales tax, as well. In the meantime the cuts that have been made, thus far, seem to be fair – some would say almost democratic, because they are across the board. The tax revolt is far from over and it’s far from democratic, because even before a single nickel has been restored to a single budget, it’s abundantly clear that the big losers in all of this will be, if not Democrats, then at least, non-Republicans.

Most of the 2500 people being laid off are unionized workers. Unions don’t traditionally support the GOP and by the way, this is the biggest layoff to hit the community since the closing of Trico. Like Trico, this is not so much about the negative perception of unions (although that’s a big component) as it is about a basic sea change in philosophy. There’s no way we could have been competitive with the wages made by Trico’s new work force in Mexico, and there’s no way that Western New York holds any real value for the Republican Party. What we had to offer the Board of Trico is what we now have to offer Republicans – absolutely nothing.

But surely after new taxes are imposed the budget cuts to all of these not-for-profits will be restored, won’t they? Don’t hold your breath.
We are witnessing a new Hooverism – in place of government services and government support for programs that “merely” effect the quality of life, we will hence forward rely on charity. In case you haven’t noticed, our great local philanthropic institutions tend to be controlled by folks who are, shall we say, right of center?

For example, as we went to press it was announced that Women’s and Children’s Hospital will dole out money for the Charter School revolution, and of course, the Oshei Foundation will continue to be part and parcel of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority (The Control Board) which is on a long march against the fire, police, and teacher’s unions.

Does anybody believe for a second that a Republican not-for-profit (one of George I’s “thousand points of light”) will step in to shore up the new County funding gaps in the budget of arts organizations such as Hallwalls or Squeaky Wheel?

Although these organizations are not part of the Democratic Party and would, indeed, consider themselves to be non-partisan, let’s look at it another way: What have these organizations done for the Republican Party, lately? Well, if we are to be honest, absolutely nothing. How does reading Michael Niman’s Artvoice columns attacking George Bush and the neocons help expand the GOP power base, locally? It doesn’t.

The arts community has, rightly or wrongly, been identified with forces hostile to the Republican Party. So while they might think that they are not being impacted differently than anybody else, at the end of the day, they are. Rather than the “We’re All In This Together” party line being pushed by The Buffalo News, it might be instructive to think back to the NEA battle during the Reagan years and ask the simple question about the current situation: “Are we under attack?”

How about if we put the shoe on the other foot and ask these people to prove to us that they are not under attack. While they may represent mere targets of convenience, they need to understand what’s going on here, not just in Washington. The culture war is now on their doorstep and they ignore it at their peril.

Directors of the effected organizations need to keep in mind that the services they cut, the people they layoff, the patrons they will turn away, and the artists they can no longer support who will simply throw their hands up and leave Buffalo, all of these things have, at their root, a political prima causa.

Welcome to The Revolution.

What the arts community, in particular, must come to accept is that they are what is meant by the term “bloated government,” and that “running it like a business” means continued support for charitable organizations such as Women’s and Children’s Hospital (read: Kaleida, Inc./Chimilgen is the 501c3) that, while enjoying broad support in the liberal and progressive communities, is now, nonetheless, contributing to the right wing agenda to bankrupt the public school system through the back door of charter schools. Conspiracy theory? It’s important to remember that the former Chief of Kaleida was none other than Tony Gioia, a principal fundraiser for W. who was made Ambassador to Malta for his efforts on behalf of the Party. Remember that you read about that here, in the pages of Alt, not in Artvoice.

Do you think that a similar reward awaits the director of Hallwalls? Let’s see, where’s she from, again? Germany? That’s in old Europe, isn’t it? Yeah, I don’t see their funding being restored any time soon. Sorry.

If Artvoice is to be the representative voice of the Arts community, they must make their readers aware of the depth and complexity of the battle that has now been enjoined right here in our backyard. The occasional essay on local preservation efforts or bicycle rallies won’t cut it. If it helps, maybe they could look at it as their own privatized personal faith-based initiative!

As the old expression goes, you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you.
You’re Not Paranoid If They Really Are Out To Get You.

By John McMahon

Remember back in the eighties when Republicans went after funding to the National Endowment for the Arts? Clearly, political considerations were being imposed on artistic funding decisions. It was pretty obvious to everyone.