Clinton budget backs appropriations for CPB and endowments but would terminate equipment grant program

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Within days after President Clinton issued his budget proposal for fiscal 1998, public broadcasters and their supporters were working to bolster his proposals for CPB and the arts and humanities endowments. And they were disputing his plans to zero out the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP).

Clinton’s proposed $325 million for CPB in fiscal 2000 — the amount requested by pubcasters — would amount to a 30 percent boost in their main federal support, compared to the 1998 and 1999 amount of $250 million. But it’s a smaller gain compared to pre-Gingrich appropriations. CPB’s appropriation this year, for instance, was settled at $315 million before it was partially rescinded.

A House appropriations subcommittee under Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.) will hear CPB’s appropriations pitch March 19.

The Administration also stepped forward with increases for the embattled endowments, which aid many programs aired on public TV and radio. The allocation for the arts endowment would rise from $99 million to $136 million and the humanities endowment from $110 million to $136 million. Hearings on NEA and NEH funding are set for March 13 in another House appropriations subcommittee and for April 24 in a Senate subcommittee.

A critic of NEA who chairs a House subcommittee with oversight authority, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), also is likely to hold hearings on the arts endowment, according to his office.

Where many pubcasters will differ with the Administration is on the fate of PTFP — their source for matching grants to replace old transmitters, build new stations and buy other equipment. Clinton cut PTFP spending almost by half two years ago and now proposes to terminate the $15 million outlay after this year.

Presidents have used sharp implements on PTFP’s budget in the past, however, and Congress has kept it going.

PTFP defenders note that nearly the same amount is proposed to be added to the Internet-oriented Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Application Program (TIIAP), a parallel grant program also operated by the Commerce Department. TIIAP funding would rise from $21.49 million this year to $36 million.

PTFP, meanwhile, “is something old and not their creation,” says APTS President David Brugger.

Congress is hearing from the Administration that it’s making up the loss of PTFP by backing an increase in CPB funding, reports NPR national affairs staffer Betsy Laird, but she questions that argument. For one thing, Laird says, PTFP would disappear immediately next year, while the CPB increase wouldn’t come around until two years later, because CPB aid is approved in advance.

Also, there’s no guarantee that CPB will receive the $325 million.

Not “slash and burn” this time

Indeed, all discretionary spending remains under pressure from deficit-cutters, and
Clinton has officially joined their cause.

The $325 million mark “is very much beyond reach,” says Mitch Rose, chief of staff to Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a repeat defender of pubcasting. Pubcasters will have to “make a compelling case to get off $250 million.”

Pubcasting isn’t brewing as an issue, Rose reports. “Nobody is shooting it down or running to prop it up.”

Rep. Thomas Sawyer (R-Ohio), a new member of the House Commerce Committee with oversight over CPB, indicated to WKSU-FM General Manager John Perry that CPB will face a fight again this year, though different in tone. “He said, ‘You’re in for it again. It may not be as crude in its approach — slash and burn — but in fact there is more coalescence toward … recognition that there is a problem that needs to be fixed, and you are part of discretionary spending. … You are going to have to make your case all over again.’ ”

A strong critic of the field is now chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees CPB, succeeding the defeated Larry Pressler. But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was not on the offensive last week. Asked how he would react if the House sends a CPB funding bill to his panel, he told reporters, “I don’t think I would want to get into some huge bloodletting battle that I couldn’t win.”

McCain volunteered that he has seen “less bias and more balance in many of [pubcasting’s] programs,” and an aide observed that the field was making progress in eliminating station duplication.

He does oppose establishing a trust fund to replace the annual appropriations, however. It would be “inappropriate” to spend proceeds from spectrum fees or auctions for anything other than deficit reduction, McCain said.

Lobbyists for the field have begun the year with a December agreement among the four major alphabet organizations — CPB, PBS, APTS and NPR — that they will stick together on legislative goals — primarily, $325 million or an adequate trust fund. Station reps in the APTS Legislative Advisory Group “overwhelmingly” endorsed the goals in a meeting last week, according to Brugger.

One objective will be to make progress toward reauthorization of CPB, lobbyists say. Congress has passed appropriations for the next two years without the authorization bill that should come first, and that makes CPB vulnerable to an oblique attack. It could also be caught in a broader campaign against unauthorized appropriations in general, a Hill aide observed.

Would double educational technology fund

In the Department of Education, the Administration proposed maintaining funding at $7 million for Ready to Learn programs, administered by CPB, and nearly doubling its aid to PBS Mathline from $1.035 million to $2 million next year.

Pubcasting stations with school-related projects have a “golden opportunity” in Education’s big Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, which Clinton wants to more-than-double from $200 million to $425 million next year, says Marcia Knutson, education funding specialist at APTS.

Heading toward its second year, the fund supports teacher training, computer and Internet access, software and other computer-literacy projects. The Department of Education distributes the grants to states on the basis of their enrollment of children from low-income families, and the states give grants to school districts that apply for them. Nonprofits, such as stations, as well as for-profit companies can participate as partners with school systems.

In its budget announcements, the White House also highlighted the Department of Education’s Technology Innovation Challenge Grants — large grants to local consortia of school districts and other organizations for projects that improve student achievement. This grants fund is on the upswing from $38 million last year to $57 million this year and a proposed $75 million in fiscal 1998.

These grant programs are growing while the Administration phases down the similar Star Schools educational technology grants program, which is proposed to drop from $30 million to $26 million next year.

Common legislative goals set in December’s non-summit

Originally published in Current, Feb. 3, 1997

The top-level meeting of public broadcasting’s top national organization leaders Dec. 13-14 resolved to pursue a common legislative strategy for CPB, PBS, APTS and NPR in 1997.

CPB Chairman Alan Sagner reported to his board Jan. 27 that public broadcasting’s major organizations agreed:

  • to request a $325 million congressional appropriation for fiscal 2000;
  • to request that a sufficiently capitalized public broadcasting trust fund be established
    if Congress ends its annual appropriations to the field; and
  • to create a single, representative group that will work on a strategic plan and
    financing for the field’s digital conversion.

A PBS summary of the meeting, issued Dec. 23, added that participants in the rare meeting–which they declined to call a “summit” meeting–had agreed to pursue federal contributions for public broadcasting’s digital conversion.

Former CPB Chairman Rita Jean Butterworth underscored the importance of the nonsummit agreement. “This is the first time this has happened in 30 years,” she said in a phone interview.

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