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Wyoming's Senators Will Have Some Say When It Comes To Arts And Humanities Cuts

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President Trump's first budget proposal called for totally zeroing out federal funding for the arts and humanities, which could disproportionately hurt rural states like Wyoming.   

Last year some of that money went to a mobile museum that toured the state teaching students and adults alike about the state's heritage. Wyoming Senator John Barrasso admits that he doesn't like that the president is calling to end the program. 

“Humanities and arts are very important all around the country, certainly in Wyoming. And there’s a commitment to the people of Wyoming and in the delegation to make sure we continue with that.”

Shannon Smith is the Executive Director for Wyoming Humanities. She was bracing for calls for steep budget cuts, but she was floored when she saw the president's first, slimmer budget.  

“I can’t lie – we were shocked. We knew there would be some tension in this area but when the quote-unquote ‘skinny budget’ came out, we were surprised at how blatant it was.”

Smith said states along the coasts, like New York and California, would be fine if they lost federal humanities funding. In Wyoming, it would hit like a punch in the gut. 

“The rural states are going to be the ones hit the hardest, most of the larger urban states are going to have the capacity to continue on without this federal funding. They have lots of foundations, private donors, they have a larger pool of people from which to ask for funding.”

Smith said Wyoming needs the National Endowment for Humanities or NEH funding because most of its residents aren't the millionaires and billionaires who reside elsewhere. 

"When you’re in a state like Wyoming with a population of 580,000 – cut out the kids, cut out people who don’t have the kind of money to be philanthropic, our market is very very small, and there’s just no way we can replace the funding we receive from NEH.”

But Wyoming has an ally on the issue with senior Senator Mike Enzi who chairs the Budget Committee. He makes it clear that he's a big supporter of the arts and humanities. 

“I always have. I was the founder of the Cultural Caucus with Senator Kennedy.”

Enzi said he's not worried by the budget proposal because Congress has the final say and the arts always enjoy broad bipartisan support. 

“The important part of any president’s budget is that’s a list of suggestions to Congress. The Constitution says the spending is done by Congress. The budget that Congress does is the one that has the overlying effect. So you can’t go by what he’s suggesting.”

Still, Enzi says he can’t promise the arts and humanities won't face a budget cut next year. 

“I wouldn’t say. You can’t tell until we get into all the details of stays and what goes.”

But Enzi is optimistic that arts and humanities funding will survive mostly intact. 

“There’s support for the humanities. Most of that money actually gets out of DC, which is one of the criteria. The more money that stays in DC the less favorable any program is going to be. That’s one of the things we’ll be looking at.”

The White House is promising to hold firm on the many of the president's agenda items in upcoming spending negotiations but it's unclear if the arts are on the top of their list of programs to cut. 

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.
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