Washington Wields a Knife

February 7th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

The Bush Administration’s proposed budget for 2009, which was announced Monday, contained some unpleasant — but not unfamiliar — news.

Federal funding for America’s public broadcasters is scheduled to be sliced in half over the next two years — from $400 to $200 million in fiscal 2009, and $180 in fiscal 2010. These are reductions to funding levels already approved by Congress. So it’s potentially quite a blow.

To give you some background … every year, the federal government designates funds to support public broadcasting in future years. This “forward-funding” approach is designed to help us maintain our editorial independence. It’s a buffer zone that insulates us from anyone who might try to use the purse strings to influence what we put on the air.

These federal funds are distributed to public television and radio by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a nonprofit organization.

If you look at the numbers I’ve mentioned, you can see that the federal money public broadcasters receive each year is relatively modest.

Just do the math. $400 million works about to about $1.33 per year American. $1.33 PER YEAR. Compare that to your annual cable bill!

And when you consider the quality of the programming and educational outreach that $1.33 supports all year long … it seems like a pretty good deal.

Patricia Harrison, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, has called the proposed cuts “draconian.”

Some stations will definitely feel them more than others – especially smaller ones.

On average, federal funds make up only about 16% of a public television station’s budget. But that 16% can be very important.

For a station like Thirteen, which is quite financially sound, the cuts would force us to trim or even cancel some of our programs and services.

For smaller stations around the country — especially rural ones — it would be much worse. Some might even be forced out of business if these cuts stick.

The good news is … we’ve faced threats of severe cuts before. Many people are already hard at work on Capitol Hill to remind our legislators of the important services that public broadcasters provide to their communities — and to the entire country. With luck, Congress will strike these cuts from the budget before voting on it.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on this situation, so stay tuned.

And don’t forget to send me your questions. Just click “Write Neal” and let me hear what you have to say.