Mayor Kasim Reed: Atlanta to seek 1/10th penny sales tax for the arts

By Maria Saporta and Dave Williams

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is seeking state approval to create a dedicated  funding source for arts and culture.

Reed said Tuesday the city of Atlanta will ask the General Assembly to authorize a referendum to raise the sales tax by one-tenth of a penny to provide a permanent source of arts funding.

In an exclusive editorial board meeting with Atlanta Business Chronicle, Reed said Atlanta’s arts organizations – particularly the smaller nonprofits – perennially struggle to stay afloat because they don’t have a steady source of funding. He described some of them as being on “life support” and in need of public funding.

“What Atlanta needs to become the city we want to become is a source of funding for the arts that comes every year no matter what,” the mayor said. “Everybody has been talking about arts funding for at least 15 years.”

Mayor Reed

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed at an editorial board meeting with the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Spokeswomen Jewanna Gaither and Anne Torres sit beside him (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Virginia Hepner, president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, has been working with the city of Atlanta on the arts funding plan.

“I am thrilled with this possibility and delighted that the mayor is focused on support for the arts,” Hepner said through a spokesman on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s exciting because by using just a sliver of public funding, we can leverage the massive private investment that’s already been made to build arts and culture organizations over the years.  It will help sustain many deserving arts and culture organizations across our whole community.

Atlanta has the leeway to increase the sales tax because the transportation sales tax referendum city voters approved overwhelmingly last November will increase sales taxes four-tenths of a cent. If voters agree to another one-tenth of a penny, Atlanta’s sales tax would increase to 9 percent.

“Let’s put it up for a vote on the November ballot,” Reed said. “Everything we have done in this space, we have gone to the voters for voter approval.”

Reed said the legislation will be modeled after an arts tax in Denver that is bringing more than $50 million a year into arts organizations in the Colorado capital’s metro region. The Denver arts and cultural tax first passed in 1988, and it was renewed in 2016 by voters in the seven-county region to last until 2030.

“While this won’t be metro wide, it will be that beginning,” Reed said. “We are satisfying a problem that we have not had the means to solve.”

If approved, the Atlanta arts funding proposal would raise an estimated $10 million to $15 million annually, he said.

The tax would help bolster the arts and cultural economy in Atlanta, which the mayor said is a growing part of the city’s workforce. He said the number of people working in creative fields in the Atlanta region will total about 100,000.

Meanwhile, the mayor said his administration has already been supportive of the arts. “We have doubled our arts funding in the city of Atlanta,” he said, adding that the city also has made a $1 million contribution to the Woodruff Arts Center for its recent $110 million campaign.

The proposed legislation to ask for the referendum to go before voters in November would coincide with Atlanta’s mayoral and city council elections.

“I really want to see the politicians who are against funding for the arts,” Reed said.

Dave Williams covers state and local government for the Atlanta Business Chronicle

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

5 replies
  1. AlexDavis2 says:

    Sadly, the “Mayor’s Plan” is extremely “Short – Sighted”. Trying to secure a “Funding Source” for the “Arts”. When the benefits are only for the “City”. Exemplifies a lack of vision. Especially, since voters just addressed and digested “MARTA”! “Art&Culture;” needs an “Identity”. Once you identify Woodruff and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Things begin to go blank. Having a larger “Footprint” was a brilliant idea. But, it doesn’t guarantee quality “Art”. Also, America’s in a “Cultural Shift”. Which makes the challenge of “Identity”, even more difficult. Waiting for these various particles, to coagulate. Maybe, our best chance at success? Do, I have an answer? Yes! But, I am not from Atlanta.Report

    Reply
  2. Burroughston Broch says:

    Most of the money would go to WAC since it has huge political support and a huge fundraising advantage over every other arts organisation.
    Will His Dishonor exclude WAC from this funding?Report

    Reply
  3. Soxie says:

    This is wonderful news! A sizable, stable source of income for the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs will be transformative for the arts and culture. I hope other municipalities follow suite!

    Thanks for the scoop!Report

    Reply
  4. BPJ says:

    This is an excellent idea. And there’s no sense in pitting smaller organizations against the Woodruff, as a couple of comments seem to do. I have served on arts nonprofit boards of entities small, medium, and large, and I can say they are all underfunded, relative to their respective sizes and missions. One cause of that is the pathetic status of the Georgia Council for the Arts. GCA is funded at a lower level per person than in all but one or two states. Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina – all have budgets several times Georgia’s on a per capita basis. That isn’t going to change as long as Republicans run the state, so the city of Atlanta needs to step up. The existing grant process is good – it just needs to be funded on a level commensurate with what exists in our peer cities.Report

    Reply
  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ BPJ
    Ask anyone who raises money for the arts in metro Atlanta which organization sucks up the vast majority of funds and you will get the same answer – Woodruff Arts Center. It is the major competition, whether you like it or not.Report

    Reply

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