Faced with a state budget deficit of $25 billion, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed cuts are deep, wide and ever closer to home.
Among the most potentially painful here is a plan to slash all state funding from California’s 80 county and district fairs. Yes, the move would save the state $32 million. But it could financially hamstring more than two dozen fairs, including Sonora’s.
If Brown’s cuts are enacted, the Mother Lode Fair would take a $200,000 hit.
Although funding for this year’s July 7-10 fair is safe, beginning in 2012 the event could lose about a third of its $600,000 budget.
The Mother Lode Fair is hardly alone, according to the nonprofit California Fairs Alliance. The organization’s list of 29 “at-risk” fairs — those which now rely on the state to cover more than 20 percent of their expenses — range from the Colorado River Fair in steamy Blythe to the Modoc District Fair in Cedarville, only a few miles from the Oregon border.
Fairs in Mariposa, Monterey, Sacramento, Stockton, Mendocino and Santa Clara are all on the somewhat long endangered list.
The Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, with its nationwide notoriety, solid local and regional revenue generation, spacious grounds, plentiful parking and Mark Twain connection, escaped the at-risk list.
But all fairs share something that transcends the vagaries of year-to-year funding. They are unparalled celebrations of their communities and showcases for the talents and skills of their residents.
Consider the 2010 Mother Lode Fair: More than 700 exhibitors produced 1,862 entries, including photographs, paintings, preserves, needlepoint, quilts, dolls, baked goods, flower arrangements, chickens, rabbits, hogs and much more.
The fair’s annual Junior Livestock Auction often draws 100 bidders willing to collectively pony up nearly $200,000 for livestock raised by young ranchers. For 4-H and FFA members, the Mother Lode Fair is the year’s highlight.
And, oh yeah, the nearly 20,000 that pass through the fair’s turnstiles each year love the midway, its rides, musical acts, hypnotists and the chance to win a huge stuffed animal by knocking bottles over with a baseball. Heck, they even love the corn dogs, dip cones, churros and deep-fried everything the fair offers.
Mother Lode Fair Manager Jan Haydn-Myer wants to make one thing perfectly clear: None of this is going to change.
“It’s who we are,” she said, assuring that the Destruction Derby, truck pulls, racing pigs, yodelers and story-tellers will return each July. “It is not going to change.”
Instead, she said, the fair will launch a campaign to become self-sufficient.”We already watch every dime,” Haydn-Myer said. “Now we’ll be watching every penny.”
Not only that, but the fair will try to attract more business sponsors, may approve modest rent hikes for its fairgrounds facilities and will revive and invigorate Friends of the Fair, a community organization whose mission is supporting the event.
At the same time, fair managers from throughout the state are lobbying the Legislature to spare the knife. Advocates argue that the state’s 80 subsidized fairs generate $126 million in annual sales-tax income.
A state Fairs & Expositions report says these events together generate $2.8 billion in consumer spending, $855 million in income and 25,000 jobs. The report calls the Mother Lode Fair an “economic engine” that in 2009 generated $10.5 million in spending and created the equivalent of 88 jobs salaried at $2.5 million.
Alas, such arguments will be made by lobbyists and backers of dozens of threatened departments, events and programs. But California’s budget crisis is so dire and its consequences so severe that no sector of state government — even if it operates in our own backyard — should be spared a share of the pain.
That’s why we applaud Manager Haydn-Myer’s goal of making the Mother Lode Fair self sufficient and encourage the community to do its part —through sponsorships, financial support, volunteer time and more — to make that happen.
After all, the Mother Lode Fair is a celebration of our community. It’s up to us to help it survive and prosper.
Weekly Arts and entertainment guide for Calaveras and Tuolumne counties