Missouri Governor Vetoed An Arts Bill, So The Kansas City Mayor Responded With Receipts… Literally

"The arts are vital to our city’s collective personality and history and we must support this industry."

There's a whole swath of politicians who don't believe the arts are worthy of government funding, but judging by a disagreement with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, Kansas City Mayor Sly James is not one of them.

Late last month Greitens vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have matched funds for the University of Missouri-Kansas City's proposed arts conservatory, and he explained his reasoning in a lengthy Facebook post. The 43-year-old Republican told Missourians that politicians are "addicted to spending your money," and said the bill he vetoed "would put taxpayers on the hook for over $75 million to build and run a conservatory for dancers and art students."

Calling himself a "conservative outsider," Greitens added, "I told you that I'd act as a budget hawk and protect your money. And that's what we're doing. We've told leaders across government to do more with less tax money, and to get better results."



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Greitens later told The Kansas City Star that while he "likes the arts," his state has other, more pressing budget concerns. "I think that when we look at all of the priorities that we have in the state of Missouri — funding K-12 education, funding adult high schools, making sure that we're taking care of the most vulnerable citizens in the state of Missouri — we have to make tough choices," he explained.

While the governor's choice may makes sense to many, he failed to account for the money Missouri earns thanks to the arts. That's where Mayor James comes in.

In a missive of his own first published on July 5, James defended the arts and the contributions artists have made to the great state of Missouri throughout history. "The Arts are fundamental to the heritage of Kansas City. It would be hard to imagine our city any other way," he began, adding that as the "birthplace of jazz" Missouri has gifted us artists such as Bennie Moten, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Charlie Parker. 

In voicing his support of the vetoed bill (which was also backed by 75 percent of the state legislature) James relied on facts and receipts, outlining exactly how the arts have generated employment and revenue for the state. 

"In 2015, the arts added an astounding 7,515 jobs to our local economy. It also added $7.9 million in revenue to our local government and $10.9 million in revenue to the state government. I don't hear the Governor saying he doesn't want the revenue our arts community creates for the state," James wrote. "If the Governor thinks politicians are 'addicted to spending taxpayer money' and cites the arts as a an example of the problem – then may the taxpayers of Kansas City have that $10,900,000 back, please?"

The mayor also pointed out that nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Missouri generate $1.1 billion in economic activity each year. "The arts are vital to our city's collective personality and history and we must support this industry if we wish to remain a world-class city that welcomes and encourages everyone to pursue his or her passion," he concluded.

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens and Kansas City Mayor Sly James.

Money aside, research has also proven studying the arts is beneficial in a myriad of ways. According to DoSomething.org, students who study art are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement and three times more likely to be awarded for school attendance. The organization also notes that arts and music education programs are mandatory in countries that rank consistently among the highest for math and science test scores, like Japan, Hungary, and the Netherlands.

That's part of the reason why it's especially disheartening to see this debate between governor and mayor in Missouri play out at the national level as well. When the current administration released its first full budget proposal in May, the National Endowment for the Arts was one of the hardest hit agencies.

According to CNN, the proposed plan stated, "The Budget proposes to begin shutting down the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 2018, given the notable funding support provided by private and other public sources and because the Administration does not consider NEA activities to be core Federal responsibilities."

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