Telfer Takes the Axe to the Arts | Editorial | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Coverage for Central Oregon, by Central Oregonians.
100% Local. No Paywalls.

Every day, the Source publishes a mix of locally reported stories on our website, keeping you up to date on developments in news, food, music and the arts. We’re committed to covering this city where we live, this city that we love, and we hear regularly from readers who appreciate our ability to put breaking news in context.

The Source has been a free publication for its 22 years. It has been free as a print version and continued that way when we began to publish online, on social media and through our newsletters.

But, as most of our readers know, times are different for local journalism. Tech giants are hoovering up small businesses and small-business advertising—which has been the staple for locally owned media. Without these resources, journalism struggles to bring coverage of community news, arts and entertainment that social media cannot deliver.

Please consider becoming a supporter of locally owned journalism through our Source Insider program. Learn more about our program’s benefits by clicking through today.

Support Us Here

Opinion » Editorial

Telfer Takes the Axe to the Arts


Oregon government can't offer many shining success stories over the past decade, but the Oregon Cultural Trust is one of them.

The brainchild of the late State Sen. Ben Westlund, in less than 10 years it's amassed an endowment of more than $15 million. It has given grants to more than a thousand artistic and cultural nonprofit enterprises, including about 30 in Central and Eastern Oregon. The Museum at Warm Springs, the High Desert Museum and the Cascade School of Music all have benefited from Cultural Trust grants.

The trust has been able to accumulate a respectable endowment not by having the government hand checks to it, but through the generosity of private donors. That generosity is stimulated by a state tax credit of up to $500 a year ($1,000 for a couple) for charitable contributions to art and cultural organizations. A tax credit is a much juicier enticement that a tax deduction because the taxpayer gets to subtract it from the actual amount of tax owed, rather than subtracting it from the income on which the tax is computed.

In this age of fiscal panic, though, when everybody - especially Republicans - is howling that governments at all levels are broke and must hold on grimly to every penny (well, unless they're talking about more tax cuts for billionaires) the Oregon Cultural Trust is under attack. Anyway its funding mechanism is, which amounts to the same thing.

Republican State Sen. Chris Telfer of Bend, notably, is glaring angrily at the Trust and saying the tax credit feature needs to be scrapped.

"Frankly, I don't think supporting the cultural trust, given our economic situation and balancing-budget problem, that's something we should be doing right now," Telfer told a reporter. "We need to step back and say, is this what Oregon's tax dollars should be going toward?"

Telfer would have a stronger case if the trust was sucking huge gobs of money out of the state treasury. But it isn't; the tax credit reduces state income tax revenue by only about $3 million to $4 million a year. (Contrast that with the more than $1 billion the state loses every time the ridiculous "kicker" goes into effect, or the hundreds of millions that major corporations operating in Oregon don't pay in corporate income taxes.)

Nor, with the credit capped at only $500 a year for individuals and $1,000 for couples, does the tax credit amount to a major tax dodge for rich Oregonians.

When budget-cutting time rolls around, politicians tend to swing their axes most energetically at things that rub their ideology the wrong way. Conservatives historically are less than enamored of artistic and cultural programs, which they often see as useless folderol at best and pinko-socialist propaganda at worst. Maybe the eagerness of Telfer and other Republicans to chop down the Cultural Trust springs from such motives.

Whatever the motives, though, it's a bad idea. The trust has been an excellent and quite affordable investment for Oregon. Telfer's plan to boot it should get THE BOOT from the legislature.

About The Author

Speaking of The Boot

Add a comment

More by Source Weekly