Trump Proposes Cutting Taxpayer Funding for Government Art Agencies

Published March 2, 2017

President Donald Trump submitted a draft budget to federal government agencies in February proposing to increase military spending by $54 billion.

Trump’s plan would offset the increase with cuts to executive agency budgets, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget.

Some of the smallest cuts have drawn substantial criticism from critics. For instance, Trump’s budget proposes reducing or eliminating taxpayer subsidies to government cultural programs, such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). CPB owns National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), a television broadcasting and production company.

Currently, NEA receives $146.2 million in federal taxpayer funds per year and CPB receives about $445.5 million, or about 0.001 percent and 0.003 percent of all federal spending, respectively. EPA receives about $8.1 billion in taxpayer funds every year.

Trump is proposing reducing EPA’s budget to about $6 billion a year, in addition to reducing federal spending on other government agencies.

Every Cut Helps

Jonathan Bydlak, president of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, says every government spending cut is a step in the right direction.

“It is true that there are bigger priorities, but these types of critiques tend to assume a world in which those bigger spending drivers are ever on the table for reduction,” Bydlak said. “Particularly in an age of budget uncertainty and growing concerns over long-term liabilities, policymakers should look for cuts wherever they can be found.”

Cutting the Cord

Bydlak says NPR and PBS should be allowed to thrive on their own terms.

“While there are certainly many more egregious examples of waste and bad government programs, the federal government should not be involving itself in something the private sector can do a much better job of promoting,” Bydlak said. “Not only is there a market for these programs, there is also reason to believe they could do better without the little bit of funding the government provides. The federal government provides only about 15 percent of PBS funding directly, and private contributions make up about 40 percent of funding for public television and 60 percent for public radio.”

Bydlak says cutting taxpayer subsidies could inspire NPR and PBS to figure out new and better ways to serve their consumers.  

“Cutting public funding and the antiquated requirements that come along with it could be one of the best ways to help the medium modernize and survive into the next generation,” Bydlak said.

Deadweight Spending

Romina Boccia, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, says subsidies for the arts are wasteful for artists and taxpayers alike.

“Current efforts by the arts community to lobby to preserve the $150 million in NEA grants the federal government funds annually are a perfect example of the deadweight loss of rent-seeking,” Boccia said. “Federal funding for art grants is too small to be considered as much as a rounding error, in comparison with charitable giving to the arts, culture, and humanities.”

Nearly all artists are funded out of art lovers’ goodwill, Boccia says, not with taxpayer money.

“Federal funding does not even comprise 0.01 percent of what the arts receive from charitable contributions,” Boccia said. “Instead of fundraising from private individuals and foundations which support the arts with billions every year, art organizations are expending money and time to preserve this minuscule federal funding stream. That’s an example of the economic loss from cronyism.”

Boccia says the federal government should get out of the art business.

“Many programs should be eliminated because they represent corporate welfare that distorts the economy, they are otherwise outside of the proper purview of the federal government, or they are ineffective at achieving their intended purpose,” Boccia said.