Senate Panel Approves Cultural Tax Bill Despite Pleas For Greater Change

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Photo: SCFD public meeting at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster
A public SCFD board meeting took place at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster on Oct. 22, 2015.

Small arts groups in the Denver area should get a bigger bump in funding from a metro-wide tax, leaders from those organizations told a legislative committee on Tuesday.

Some 240 small arts organizations are in line to get a slightly bigger share of money from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District if it is reauthorized by voters this November. Right now, they divvy up just 14 percent of the take. Proposed changes would likely boost their share of the funds to 17 percent. But some advocates for smaller groups told legislators that isn’t enough.

“If there was an additional fund, we could then challenge, compete and build staffing for our organizations,” said Su Teatro Director Tony Garcia.

But after two hours of testimony while considering changes to the SCFD, the Senate Finance Committee disagreed. It unanimously approved a bill that would increase the share of revenue for smaller groups up to no more than 17 percent.

“I think overwhelmingly the theme of the testimony you’ve heard today is that the SCFD is a victim of its own success," said bill co-sponsor Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. "And by taxpayers choosing to provide this support to arts and cultural organizations, the arts and cultures in our communities are flourishing."

In 2014, the SCFD handed out $52 million in sales and use tax revenue. That tax is set to expire in summer 2018. So officials see this as the right time to make changes before voters across seven counties decide in November whether to extend SCFD through 2030.

Su Teatro's Garcia said a bigger funding boost would help smaller organizations that do more to serve diverse communities.

“We could work in tandem with the larger organizations to reach this community,” he said. “We are seriously handicapped and we, Latino organizations, will fail our community if this authorization goes forward as written.”

Under the proposal approved by the SCFD board, the five biggest institutions -- like the Denver Zoo and the Denver Art Museum -- would likely see their funding cut from 64 to 57 percent. And other arts leaders say the proposed funding formula is fair.

“The bill before you represents the considered and passionate work of hundreds of citizens over several years,” Lone Tree Arts Center director Lisa Rigsby Peterson said. “We want to continue our good work and we want to continue to make a difference in the quality of life of Coloradans. This bill helps us to do just that.”

It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The House also needs to consider the measure, as state legislators must sign off on any changes to the district.