Autumn Advocacy News You Can Use

November 14, 2018 

The results are (mostly) in: midterm election update

Following last week's midterm elections, the U.S. House of Representatives is set to welcome at least 80 new Representatives come January. While a handful of seats in the House and two in the Senate have yet to be called, Democrats have won enough seats to gain control of the House, while the Republicans retain control of the Senate. All elected officials have a vested interest in representing their constituents, so orchestra supporters should start planning now to contact new and returning elected officials about the ways orchestras contribute to community and how they also need continued Congressional support. The League's free online guide, Playing Your Part, offers easy-to-read advice on how to build successful relationships with policymakers. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into the new session of Congress when we begin the new year!

Fiscal year 2019 begins: where do things stand?

Just days before the end of the fiscal year, Congress passed a mixed package that finalized funding for some bills while buying time via a continuing resolution for several others. The Interior bill, which includes the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has not been finalized, so Congress has until December 7 to complete that FY19 allocation. While the Senate Appropriations Committee and the full House have so far approved an additional $2 million increase for both the NEA and NEH, the delay of this decision-making until after the midterm elections means advocates should stay tuned and be ready to contact their elected officials to shore up support with many other priorities expected to affect lame duck funding negotiations. One bill that was finalized included funding for the U.S. Department of Education, which preserved $29 million for the Assistance for Arts Education program and slightly increased the allocation for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAEG) program. The bipartisan support for these programs, among others, is also notable because the larger Labor-Health-and-Human-Services-Education bill is notoriously difficult to pass; in fact, it was last enacted in 1996. In other agency news, the President nominated Mary Anne Carter to serve as the chairman of the NEA. Carter has been serving as acting chairman since June, and her appointment to a four-year term will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Weighing in as Congress considers pension reform

Congress has established a Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans with a mandate to propose a bipartisan legislative solution by November 30 to improve the status of the many underfunded multiemployer pension plans nationwide. Starting this past spring, the American Federation of Musicians and Employers' Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) Plan, in which many orchestras participate, has been directly calling on employer and musician participants to contact Congress in support of immediate Congressional action to provide relief. Although the Joint Select Committee has been charged with a mandate to craft a legislative solution, there are many hurdles and barriers to Congressional action, which will likely unfold over months to come. If your orchestra has a stake in the outcome of pension reform, please see the online campaign created by the AFM-EPF, which is governed by both musicians and employers.

'Tis the season for year-end giving campaigns

As the year ends, and donors' giving habits are newly influenced by comprehensive tax reform, remember that the IRA Charitable Rollover was retained under the new law and may be a powerful incentive for giving whether or not donors may be shifting to the growing ranks of taxpayers that will no longer itemize their tax returns. Since the IRA rollover went through several rounds of expiration and reinstatement before being made permanent in 2015, very many donors may be unaware of this important giving option. Take a look at our overview of the IRA Charitable Rollover, and the League's summary of key areas of tax policy that changed under tax reform.

UBIT guidance a "priority" for Treasury

On November 8, the Department of Treasury announced that guidance on the new UBIT rules is now part of the agency's 2018-19 Priority Guidance Plan. The comprehensive tax reform provisions signed into law last December include a new requirement for nonprofits to pay Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) equal to 21% of the value of commuting and parking benefits provided to employees. The League has partnered with the broader nonprofit sector to ask for clarification of the new rules, delayed implementation, and eventual repeal of this unprecedented tax on nonprofit expenses. While no guidance has been issued by the Internal Revenue Service to clarify which benefits are subject to the tax and how to value certain benefits, the new requirements officially took effect beginning on January 1, 2018. While the exact timing of next steps is still unclear, the League will be keeping orchestras informed as soon as any new guidance on this topic is issued by the Internal Revenue Service.

Progress in improved policies for musical instruments

At a meeting in Sochi, Russia in early October, significant progress was made towards improving policies that regulate travel and sales of musical instruments under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The League's Heather Noonan, VP for advocacy, delivered remarks on behalf of musical instruments group worldwide. During consideration of policies regarding the rosewood found in many string, percussion, and woodwind instruments, she called on decision makers to take swift steps towards a solution that can be adopted at the Conference of the Parties in May 2019. Delegates attending the meeting of the Standing Committee of CITES responsible for policy development unanimously agreed that trade in musical instruments is not detrimental to the threatened species under consideration, and advanced a recommendation to exempt both commercial and noncommercial trade in finished musical instruments, parts, and accessories from the new rosewood permit requirements that were put into place in January 2017.

The League will be engaged in the next steps required for this recommendation to be fully adopted and implemented by all 183 parties to the treaty when negotiations take place in May in Sri Lanka, and continues to partner with the National Association of Music Merchants and music stakeholders worldwide. To learn more about how protected species policies affect musical instruments, visit the League's resource page.