DeSantis vetoes all arts grants in Florida

MIAMI — For the past 10 days, Richard Russell has been rattled, poring over budgets and working the phones in an attempt to limit the consequences of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto pen.

Russell, general director of the Sarasota Opera on Florida’s Gulf Coast, had expected his nonprofit organization to receive a state grant of about $70,000 once DeSantis signed a budget that state lawmakers had approved in March.


But in a move that stunned arts and culture organizations, DeSantis vetoed the entirety of their grant funding — about $32 million — on June 12, leaving them scrambling to figure out how to offset the shortfall.

“It’s not going to close us,” Russell said. “But it is a gap that I am going to have to figure out how to make up, and if I don’t find alternate sources of funding, that could be someone’s job.”

Leaders of arts organizations in Florida, many of whom have worked in the state for decades, cannot remember a governor ever eliminating all of their grant funding.

Even in the lean years of the Great Recession, at least a nominal amount — say, 5% of the recommended total — was approved.

Established arts organizations usually know better than to overly rely on nonrecurring state dollars subject to the discretion of politicians, said Michael Tomor, executive director of the Tampa Museum of Art. But to cut funding at a time when arts organizations are still struggling to recover from the coronavirus pandemic sends a concerning message “that taxpayer dollars should not be used in support of arts and culture,” he added.

In reality, Tomor said, organizations such as his are tourism and economic drivers that also provide a public good, especially for children, older people and underserved communities.

“We truly are learning institutions,” said Tomor, whose museum expected to receive a $500,000 capital grant and a $70,500 operational grant this year. “We fulfill an important role in our communities.”

DeSantis, a Republican, gave no explanation for zeroing out the arts grants. His office said in a statement that he made veto decisions “that are in the best interests of the State of Florida.”

In all, DeSantis vetoed nearly $950 million in proposed spending and proclaimed that the remaining $116.5 billion came in under the previous year’s budget.

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