Advocacy Alert: July 16, 2009

Washington Wire: Legislative Update

  • Charitable Giving Limitation Back on the Table: Act Now 
  • Funding for IMLS Office of Museum Services
  • Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Interior Funding Bill
  • Amendment to Block Funds for Museum Earmark Defeated in Senate

Charitable Giving Limitation Back on the Table: Act Now!

Earlier this year, President Obama proposed limiting the deductibility of charitable donations for those in the upper income levels. The proposal was designed to help pay for his comprehensive health care reform initiative. At first, the measure was not received well on Capitol Hill, with several senior members of the tax-writing committees calling it “dead on arrival.” But now, with the health care reform debate heating up, the measure and a revised version are back on the table.

On July 15, the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee passed its version of a health care reform bill—estimated to cost $615 billion over 10 years—but financing mechanisms were not identified. The Senate Finance Committee is currently debating health care reform legislation and is expected to produce a version of health care reform legislation that includes measures to offset the high cost of the legislation. The Committee is looking at a number of options, including a modified version of President Obama’s provision to limit the deductibility of charitable donations. The modified version would keep current deduction levels in place when certain tax brackets change in 2011, effectively limiting the deductibility for donors whose tax rate will increase. This modified proposal is estimated to raise $68 billion over ten years, a little more than 11% of the total health care bill’s cost. 

“Limiting the deductibility of charitable gifts would really hurt museums,” said AAM President Ford W. Bell. “Every member of the Senate Finance Committee needs to hear from constituents about how this measure could affect your museum’s bottom line. Health care reform is sorely needed in America, but a threat to charitable giving could actually force museums to lay off staff, or cut health benefits for current employees, which would be a step in the wrong direction.”

Please take a moment to tell Congress today that charitable giving is the lifeblood of museums, and that limiting the deductibility could have a devastating effect on your museum.

Funding for IMLS Office of Museum Services 

On Friday, July 17, the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill, which provides funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and its Office of Museum Services (OMS). On July 10, an appropriations subcommittee approved an overall funding level for the entire bill of $730.5 billion—about $52 million less than President Obama requested. At press time, no details about the subcommittee’s funding level for OMS had been made public.

Funding for the IMLS Office of Museum Services (currently at $35 million) has been essentially flat for the past several fiscal years, despite increased attendance at museums, collections subject to increasing risk and a growing need among museum staff for professional development in conservation, education and technology. The vital services museums provide to schools and communities are in greater demand than ever. Unfortunately, museums are struggling significantly in these difficult economic times, being forced to cut back on hours, educational programming, community services and jobs.

It is more important than ever to tell Congress that museums—and specifically, the Office of Museum Services at IMLS—deserve increased federal support in FY10. Send a letter to your Representative requesting $50 million (a $15 million increase) for the Office of Museum Services. This critical funding will support educational programming, technology upgrades, professional development, and preservation of treasured collections at museums of all types.

President Obama's budget request included level funding for OMS at $35 million.

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Interior Funding Bill

On June 25, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2010 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (H.R. 2996) which includes funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America programs. The bill includes a total of $161.3 million each for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, an increase of $6.3 million above the 2009 enacted level for each agency. The Senate bill would provide the Save America’s Treasures program with $20 million and Preserve America with $3.175 million.

The next day, the House of Representatives approved its version of H.R. 2996, including $170 million each for NEH and NEA. Within the Historic Preservation Fund the House approved $46.5 million for state historic preservation offices, $8 million for tribal historic preservation offices, $30 million for Save America’s Treasures and $6.175 million for Preserve America. This bill also includes funding for National Heritage Areas, national conservation programs and funds for agency management of heritage resources.

The full Senate will next take up the bill, and then the House and Senate will reconcile any differences between the two versions.

Amendment to Block Funds for Museum Earmark Defeated in Senate

During consideration of a spending bill in the U.S. Senate, an amendment was offered to strike $200,000 that was intended for the Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebr. The amendment, offered on July 6 by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), was defeated by a vote 31–61, so the funding stayed in the bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 67–25.

Debate ensued during consideration of the FY2010 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, which funds a variety of government entities including Congress, the Library of Congress, the Capitol Police and the Government Accountability Office.

The $200,000 was requested by Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebr.) and was designated to help the museum digitize the roughly half-million images in its photo archive. The “earmark” is the only one contained in the overall spending bill. The bill now must be reconciled with the House-passed version and then will be sent to the president.

P.S. on National Service Initiative 

If you—or your museum—are participating in President Obama’s “United We Serve” national service initiative, please let us know about it. To learn more about this effort, visit www.serve.gov.