Lobbyist Jennifer Mello Gives Insight into Legislative Successes of 2012

Arts for Colorado lobbyist Jennifer Mello wants to relay the message that, in order for funding for the arts to increase in Colorado, people have to take a gamble – literally.

With a large portion of funding given to the Colorado Creative Industries Division (CCI) coming from Limited Gaming Funds, Mello stated that the major reason funding is down is because revenue from gaming has been decreasing, due in large part to the nationwide recession.

“In a recession people do not have as much disposable income, so they do not gamble as much, so the tax receipts go down,” she says. “We started the 2012 session facing a cut not because anyone was after us or was trying to take our money, it’s just that revenue was down. When you do not have as much revenue you do not get as much money.”

Despite the fact that people are not visiting casinos as much as in years past, Mello insists that the funds awarded at this year’s Colorado General Assembly (CGA) were much higher than anticipated.

“The fight we fought was about how much money we could recover and where it was going to come from,” she says. “Had we done nothing, we would have received a $400,000 cut — at the end of the day we received a $100,000 cut — we recovered 75% of what we thought we were going to lose because of revenue decline.”

The battle fought by Mello proved to be beneficial, but it was not fought alone. Senator Pat Steadman ultimately made the final motion to the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), ensuring that much of the budget would be retained and a new strategy could be put in place.

“It is important to note that it is a one-time thing,” Mello says. “We have not fixed the problem, but we got through a year with fairly minimal cuts.”

Mello stresses the importance of having champions like Steadman on the JBC to the continued success of the CCI.

“It is always good to have a relationship with your state legislator, your senator, and your representative,” she says. “Those elected officials will always be very receptive to the people in their districts and to what they care about. If they know who you are and that you care about the arts, that is the best thing people can do.”

During the CGA, Mello also fought to pass HB 12-1132, which would have allowed for income and sales tax credits for businesses located in a Creative District — a defined area, small enough to be walkable, that aims to enhance the economic and civic capital of a community. While the bill died on a bipartisan vote, Mello says that helping Creative Districts in Colorado thrive will continue to be addressed. “We are still interested in supporting Creative Districts,” she says. “That is something we will continue to work on.”

In the meantime, Arts for Colorado will continue to work with Mello, and other like-minded lobbyists, to develop strategies for next year and for many years to come ensuring an investment in the arts will not be such a gamble.