Year-end Washington Policy Decisions Affecting the Arts; What are the Most Likely Possibilities?
You might be wondering what is happening in Congress as the lights twinkle towards year-end. You might be seeing pictures of ducks, a tribute to the current, post-election session that’s termed “lame-duck.” All the while, retiring and defeated members of Congress take up life in cubicles, losing their office space, most of their equipment, and sometimes even most of their staff. Yet, Congress is still in session. Policy is still happening, and deals are ever-changing. Here’s what you can best expect in these final days of the 113th Congress as it impacts the arts:
If you’re a follower of Congress and the nonprofit community, you’ll know that over 50 policy provisions that can affect your taxes expired a year ago.
For more than a decade, Americans for the Arts has worked with a coalition of supporters to make this provision permanent—removing it from a cycle of expiration and reinstatement that limits its policy effectiveness.Not too many paid a lot of attention, since tax filing only happens after the calendar year is over, and Congress (in recent years) has delivered retroactive patches. One of these tax provisions affecting arts organizations is the IRA Charitable Rollover.
What’s its most likely fate? Another patch. Despite considerable anticipation and bipartisan and bicameral work in the giving spirit before Thanksgiving, the most likely final action this year is a patch to allow taxpayers to claim it only for 2014. For the IRA Charitable Rollover, the IRS already requires timed, mandatory withdrawals from your IRA. Thus, effectively, only if you are taking a withdrawal in the few calendar days of 2014 would you be able to give directly to an eligible charitable organization tax-free under this option. Then, the provision would promptly re-expire on January 1, placing the policy right back where it has been in expiration. This scenario, though, does set a strong stage for comprehensive tax reform occurring soon. It is a very likely policy priority in 2015 that could impact the larger charitable tax deduction and even when last charitable donations can be made in any given tax year.
I’m late, I’m late! December 11 is the date current funding expires. (Notice a pattern: Congress likes expirations.) A leading plan right now is work towards a real, final fiscal year 2015 bill to fund the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), as part of a huge bill funding the entire government. It’s been named a “cromnibus.” No, it’s not the latest, new fad of delicious pastry, but a combination of a “Continuing Resolution” that would fund our homeland security for a short time and an “Omnibus” to fund the rest of the government through the fiscal year ending September 30, 2015. Again, fluid, but this option has emerged as a most likely scenario. Under it, NEA would most likely be expected to continue to receive the same level of funding for its programs and operations at $146 million.
Musical Instruments on Planes
Ever tried to carry a guitar as carry-on luggage? You’ll remember there’s a law for carrying musical instruments on planes, as a result of legislation Congress passed and the President signed, but it has been stuck in regulatory process at the Federal Aviation Administration for about three years. All the while, damage to instruments keeps happening. However, excitingly, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced plans to issue final regulations on airline rules for travel with musical instruments—by the end of this month! It’s been three years coming, so it may be wise to not count your chickens quite yet, but a most likely scenario is that it will soon be much safer for your instruments when you travel. So you might be able to consider bringing your guitar to your holiday celebrations and play a soft song.
Despite receiving a record number of public comments – more than 4 million, including joint comments signed by Americans for the Arts – the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) won't be issuing final rules on net neutrality this year. This delay despite speculation that rules were likely sometime after the midterm congressional elections and before year-end. President Obama also joined in the conversation, issuing his own statement on November 10. But all of us, including artists and artist entrepreneurs alike, will need to keep waiting a bit longer to see what happens, whether rulemaking action at the FCC—or Congress at last rewriting the Telecommunications Act, last fully updated in 1996!
Goodbye 113th Congress
In sum, a topsy-turvy congressional year sometimes described as the least productive ever may result in significant last-minute action on a number of pending legislative bills impacting the arts and arts organizations. Catch your breath, and we, in senatorial style, just might bring in the New Year toasting with milk while clutching a stuffed buffalo. Weirder things have happened! Really.