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Panel compromise gives NEA almost $100 million

A stunning compromise was reached late Tuesday night, Sept. 30, in the House-Senate conference committee over funding for the beleaguered National Endowment for the Arts. The conference met Tuesday in the nation's capitol and agreed to an appropriation of $98.5 million in the final version of the Fiscal Year 1998 Interior Appropriations Bill.

The House-Senate conference included Utah Sen. Bob Bennett and was led by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) and Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH). Their compromise calls for a funding level of $98.5 million, down from the Senate's proposed $100 million, which is a small cut and comes with several moderate reforms.The agency was directed to increase from 35 percent to 40 percent the proportion of money it sends through state arts agencies. Another provision puts a cap on any state from receiving more than 15 percent of NEA granting funds - this directly affects larger states, such as New York and California which have typically received the lion's share of NEA funds. For the first time ever, the arts agency will be allowed to solicit private money, and the agency's board will include six members of Congress for oversight.

Although the conference committee has agreed on funding for the NEA, the Appropriations Bill must first pass the House and Senate before going to the White House for final approval. Senator Bennett's office, in a conversation late Tuesday evening with the Utah Arts Council, agreed the fight is not over but a major battle has been won. Bennett (R-UT) has long been a strong supporter of the national arts agency, claiming in his Sept. 15 address to the Department of the Interior, the NEA makes the arts "available in area in rural Utah and in poorer school districts where they would not be available otherwise."