Tucson-Pima Arts Council Executive Director Roberto Bedoya called it a "budget nightmare."
He was talking about a proposal from Tucson City Manager Richard Miranda to reduce funding for his non-profit agency from roughly $400,000 a year to just $100,000.
"I was not expecting this at all," Bedoya said. "I knew it would be difficult for us to hold the line but I was shocked when I went online and saw the news."
TPAC is just one agency that is looking at deep cuts as Miranda attempts to bridge an estimated $27 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year.
Miranda shared the broad outlines of his budget plan at last week's City Council meeting. The proposal includes laying off 29 permanent employees, eliminating 35 vacant positions, cutting 75 percent of the TPAC budget, raising bus fares, and eliminating funding for Access Tucson, the YMCA, and outside agencies involved in economic and workforce development.
Bedoya argued that cutting TPAC's funding is short-sighted, especially since the agency has already seen its funding slashed by 45 percent in recent years as the city faced a series of budget crises. He said the city's funding—which is about 40 percent of his million-dollar annual budget—helps him find matching grants from private foundations and the state and federal government. It supports an $87 million local economic sector that helps increase tax revenues because people tend to spend money on food and drink when they attend a performance. And he pointed out that the city's 63 cents per capita funding for the arts is far behind the national average of roughly $5 per capita in major metropolitan areas.
"This recommendation betrays the legacy of the city's role in leading and supporting this cultural community," Bedoya said. "It's tiring that every year we have to justify ourselves. After 30 years were still on this merry-go-round and we keep falling behind."
Tucson City Council members appear to be on his side. Earlier this week, Councilwoman Regina Romero said that the arts dollars not only enrich the city's cultural landscape but also provide a return on investment by bringing in matching grants from outside the community.
"Funding of the arts is something that's important to the quality of life in our community," Romero said.
Three other council members—Karin Uhlich, Paul Cunningham and Steve Kozachik—agreed with Romero's sentiment, with Kozachik saying he planned to release his own budget recommendations in the coming days that would "restore funding to almost all" of the outside agencies targeted for cuts.
If there's an outside agency that may face problems, it's Access Tucson, the public-access television station that airs programming for Tucsonans on cable channels and provides training, video equipment and studio space for locals to create TV shows. Miranda has proposed cutting all funding for Access Tucson and selling the downtown building, on Broadway near Sixth Avenue, that houses its studio and production facilities.
Last week, Access Tucson Executive Director Lisa Horner got a notice in the mail that the city planned to end its lease with the non-profit organization in 90 days.
"It was a surprise," Horner said.
Horner, whose agency has seen its city funding drop from $800,000 to $300,000 in recent years, said that losing the remaining funding would be devastating to Access Tucson.
"That would leave us with very little," Horner said.
Romero said she thought Access Tucson would face some kind of funding hit this year but she didn't want to eliminate all funding for the agency.
"This year, maybe cut them by 50 percent and maybe next year, they don't get anything at all, but we should give them a chance to find a new finance model," Romero said. "We should not say, 'In the next three months, Access Tucson, you're gone.' It's not fair."
Romero said she was open to examining the sale of the building sometime in the next fiscal year, but added that she didn't want the non-profit evicted in just three months.
Kozachik was also critical of the city's move to evict Access Tucson.
"I think we need to at least explore the appraisal of the building but frankly, I don't think you tell somebody you have just three months left," Kozachik said. "You don't pull the rug out from under them."
But Kozachik warned that Access Tucson needed to rethink its mission, given that YouTube allows people to post videos that they can make on their smart phones.
"Honestly, they need to retool their mission," Kozachik said. "The First Amendment pitch will only go so far in an age of YouTube."
Horner says Access Tucson still has a vital purpose, including inexpensive video-training classes and a studio facility that can't easily be replicated.
"It is a 30-year-old community resource for not only media education, which is one of the most important services that we provide," Horner said. "We have a 30-year archive of Tucson history by Tucsonans. We love YouTube and we love the Internet and the digital revolution that is made communication available, but it is still practical to have a place where people get together face-to-face and learn things."