Mayor Len Brown's promise to transform Auckland into the world's most liveable city just got a whole lot harder this week with a majority of councillors voting to reject the funding requests of the major museums and 10 regional amenities.

Among the amenities are Surf Lifesaving, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, the Rescue Helicopter Trust and, in the second week of the Auckland Arts Festival, the Auckland Festival Trust.

As for the mayor, instead of sticking around to rally the troops, he was in Wellington briefing Cabinet ministers about the spatial plan.

Tuesday's funding rejection at the strategy and finance committee will now be reconsidered at the March 31 meeting of the Auckland Council. If the requests are rejected again, compulsory arbitration will take place. Which takes us back to this time last year.

But first a little background. In August 2008, Labour and National MPs united to pass the Auckland Regional Amenities Act, which created a population-based funding formula for 10 Auckland amenities - both cultural and rescue. Parliament accepted that because of the dire financial state of several of these valued organisations, the introduction of an equitable funding regime could not await the creation of a Super City, at which time - wishful thinking - a more enlightened approach would occur.

The battle had been long and bitter, with every council except Auckland City against equitable funding. Even the Auckland Regional Council, which was enlightened when it came to nurturing forests and warbling bellbirds, drew the line at supporting human song and dance.

The funding model was based on older legislation which allowed a household levy in support of Auckland Museum and the Museum of Transport and Technology. The amenities levy was to be phased in over four years: $9 million for the first year, no more than $12 million in the second, no more than $15 million in the third - this year - and from year four, no more than 2 per cent of the region's rates income, excluding water charges.

Last year, the opponents forced the issue to arbitration, even though the levy of $11.6 million was less than the permitted maximum. Arbitrator Peter Salmon, QC, a retired High Court judge, upheld the amount, rejecting demands that the grant be cut because of the "economic crisis".

Referring to the strict guidelines laid down by law, he ruled: "I can see nothing in the funding principles which would require the board to limit the grants in times of economic stress. Indeed, one can understand that in such times the amenities might be more reliant on the grants."

He did say both sides could have done a better job providing information to each other. This time, if there's been any information breakdown, it's been between the council bureaucrats and the councillors. But I say "if"' because the funding board's proposed funding plan has been available since at least mid-February, when public submissions were called. Not one councillor made a submission objecting to the funding at that stage.

This year's proposal is for a $13,190,000 levy for the coming year (14 per cent up on this year) for the amenities, along with a 5 per cent increase for Auckland Museum and an 8 per cent boost for Motat.

Despite the arbitrator's ruling against invoking economic stress, most of the opponents happily repeated the small-town battle cries from last year and the year before that. Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse voted against, as she did in the same role at Waitakere City. So did one-term Auckland mayor Christine Fletcher and former regional council chairman Mike Lee, the latter perhaps forgetting he now represents the inner-city culture-loving precinct of Waitemata.

The strategy and finance committee vote was 11 against, seven in favour, and three abstentions - Sandra Coney and the two unelected Maori appointees.

On a positive note, of the seven in favour, four were from the outer suburbs: Wayne Walker and Michael Goudie from Albany, Ann Hartley from North Shore and Penny Webster, former mayor of Rodney. All represent areas formerly implacably against regional funding.

As Mrs Webster, who chaired Tuesday's meeting, says: "We are a region and we have to start thinking like a region. Things like the Auckland Festival are what's going to make us a liveable city." In 2008, "we were taken into it shrieking and screaming, but the best thing we can do now is make it work".

By the end of the month, let's hope this commonsense approach has spread.