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    Posted March 26, 2009

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Equity Trims 2009-2010 Budget

Cost-Saving Measures Will Not Impact Services

By Steven DiPaola - Assistant Executive Director for Finance and Administration

Council, at its meeting on March 17, 2009, approved the budget for the Association for FYE 2009-2010. The $17.2 million budget reduces expenses and implements several cost-saving measures without a reduction in services or benefits.

During the past year, as the global economic crisis unfolded, Actors' Equity continuously analyzed the potential effect of this downturn on our members. Historical analysis shows that during the economic downturns of the past 40 years, workweeks on the Production Contract (an important indicator of Equity's economic health) have declined. While member earnings have also declined during these periods, the drops have been smaller, mostly because while cast sizes decrease, shows become more star-driven. In addition, the employers find it more difficult to raise money to develop future shows.

Beyond the Production Contract, theatres operating on other contracts have felt the effects of the troubled economy: Board members of not-for-profits have lost their jobs; banks have frozen credit lines; loan payments have been accelerated. As a result, some theatres have already announced cuts to their seasons. All of this is bound to affect workweeks, member earnings, and Equity's working dues income.

The last dues increase, approved by the members in 2002, was designed to cover expenses for the Association that were projected through the fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2009. The dues increase ultimately did far more than that. When the projections were made in 2002, there were no plans for Communications or Organizing Departments (both of which Equity now has), and the redesign of our website and the expansions that would be possible in online services were not foreseen. In addition, we did not anticipate the need to pay out $1 million in benefits to our affected members during the Local One strike of 2007. With the guidance of Equity's elected leadership and staff, we were able to achieve more than expected before encountering the deficit that will occur during this fiscal year.

Fortunately, we have built a strong reserve fund that can help us weather small, short-term deficit spending. However, the Council, Executive Director Connolly and the staff financial team are dedicated to keeping that deficit as small as possible so as to prevent a dues increase in the immediate future. To do so we have instituted a number of programs - some permanent and some necessarily short-term - that will help control costs. Improvements we have made to our online services allow us to rethink our mailing policies and printing processes by utilizing electronic documents rather than hard-copy versions, and we're confident that these savings can be sustained. Similarly, Equity has launched a program to embrace cost-saving greener practices. Short-term cost-saving measures rely on the willingness and dedication of the staff to take on additional responsibilities that have enabled us to implement other savings while exploring additional possibilities.

These changes have enabled Equity to decrease budgeted expenses for the new fiscal year by 1.1% without decreasing services or benefits. The continuous changes in our industry and the increasing costs associated with member services and protection make it impractical to annually decrease our budget However, implementing these cost-saving measures now will help get us through the remainder of this year, and we hope that by next year, the economy will be showing signs of improvement. In the meantime we will continue to look for ways to cut costs and more efficiently deliver service to our members.

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