The more things change . . . Last fall’s Democratic takeover of Congress put some public broadcasting pals in powerful positions on Capitol Hill, but President Bush’s position is still that the system gets too much money.
As in years past, the administration budget released on Feb. 5  calls for substantial cuts to CPB funding and other system line items. The White House would slice more than $140 million from the system’s current funding levels in fiscal 2008, a reduction of almost 25 percent from ’07, according to system reps in Washington.
“It’s more of the same,” said John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations.
Specifically, the 2008 budget recommends a $50 million rescission from the $400 million advance-appropriated for CPB; no advance appropriation for 2010; and no additional funding in 2008 for digital conversion or system interconnection (which received $30 million and $35 million, respectively, in 2007), though CPB would be allowed to use some of its regular appropriation for these purposes.
The White House also proposed to eliminate Ready to Teach ($11 million) and the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program ($22 million) and to slightly decrease funding for Ready to Learn to $24 million in 2008 ($24.5 million in 2007).
Public broadcasting is asking to extend the interconnection line item — used in recent years to raise $122 million for public TV’s Next Generation Interconnection System — and allocate it in ’08 and beyond for upgrades to the Public Radio Satellite System.
The cutback plans “are similar to those made by the President last year,” CPB President Pat Harrison wrote in an e-mail notifying stations about the proposed cuts, “and, as last year, they represent only the beginning of a long appropriations process in which Congress will consider the needs of public broadcasters.”
How long? Well, pubcasters still don’t have an official appropriations bill in place for the current year, even though CPB made its 2007 funding request about a year ago and the fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2006. A continuing resolution is providing CPB, and most federal agencies, with essentially the same funding they got in 2006.
As usual, activists and others friendly to pubcasting criticized the President’s new budget.
“The public broadcasting system represents an oasis of quality, child-oriented educational programming,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a longtime system ally. “We owe America’s children and their parents this free, over-the-air resource.” Markey was recently named chair of the House’s influential Sub-committee on Telecommunications and the Internet.
MoveOn.org, the progressive rallying force, responded to the proposed cuts by urging its troops to sign a petition: “Congress must save NPR and PBS once and for all. Congress should guarantee permanent funding and independence from partisan meddling.”
“The $145 million proposed cut is a drop in the bucket of a nearly $3 trillion budget, and it is an investment in democracy,” Common Cause President Chellie Pingree said in a news release.
Among the more concrete requests for federal aid in 2008 is rejuvenation of pubradio’s satellite system. Pubcasting lobbyists are asking this year for $27 million — out of a total of $73 million over the next three years — to pay for new satellite transponder contracts and hardware and software upgrades.
The president’s budget is “familiar if disappointing,” said Mike Riksen, NPR’s v.p. for government relations. But it will not alter the system’s request to Congress, he said.
PBS is “very concerned” because, among other considerations, lack of federal forward funding would “cripple” the network’s ability to support multiyear program projects, said Lea Sloan, PBS’s v.p. for communications.
“We are hopeful that Congress will recognize the unique value public stations offer to their communities,” she said.
Copyright 2007 Current