Public broadcasting’s federal subsidies were not caught up in the political stalemate that forced closure of the federal government Oct. 1. The U.S. Treasury delivered CPB’s $445 million fiscal 2014 appropriation that same day, as scheduled, while political leaders in Congress and the White House wrangled over tea party Republicans’ push to repeal the Affordable Health Care for America Act. CPB’s appropriation was forward-funded during the 2012 appropriations cycle. The federal budget that has been held up by a faction of GOP lawmakers will determine CPB’s funding for 2016.
After automatic spending cuts required under the Budget Control Act of 2011 took effect March 1, CPB received confirmation that its 2013 appropriation was trimmed to $421.4 million, a 5 percent reduction in the original amount, $445 million. CPB, which had anticipated deeper cuts, revised its budget for the fiscal year, and notified stations of the changes in a March 4 memo. Local stations’ Community Service Grants will be slightly higher than those calculated last fall. “Reflecting our continued concern about the potential for additional budget actions in FY 2013,” CPB President Pat Harrison told station execs, CPB will base this fiscal year’s second Community Service Grant payments on an appropriation level of $421.4 million, which will incorporate a recalculation of the first CSG payment at $421.4 million. CSGs should be ready by April 1, she added.
The looming political battle over federal spending — and the possibility of across-the-board budget cuts imposed through sequestration — has prompted CPB to alter distribution of Community Service Grants to stations. The change, implemented after CPB execs negotiated an agreement with the White House Office of Management and Budget over possible sequestration of its $445 million appropriation, boosts the amount of money stations will receive in the first of two CSG checks to be issued by CPB for fiscal 2013. But the second batch of checks, to be issued in March, will be much smaller. How much smaller depends on the outcome of the Nov. 6 general election and whether lawmakers and the Obama administration can work out a deal that would forestall some $1.2 trillion in automatic spending reductions required under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Efforts to build political support for continued federal funding of public broadcasting have gained little or no traction on Capitol Hill, a parade of speakers told the CPB Board during its Sept. 10 and 11 meeting in Washington, D.C.
Two members of Congress, a CPB staffer and heads of three national pubcasting organizations encouraged CPB’s leaders to do more to convince lawmakers that public broadcasting would be irreparably harmed by the loss of CPB’s $445 million appropriation. Dire warnings from this summer’s report on scant alternative funding sources haven’t swayed lawmakers who’ve pledged to defund CPB. The Booz & Co. financial analysis, requested by Congress in December 2011 and delivered in June, concluded that withdrawal of aid would have a “cascading debilitating effect,” starting first with stations serving rural areas and ultimately leading to the collapse of the public broadcasting system.
Public broadcasters face multiple and serious uncertainties on Capitol Hill over the next few months. A spending bill approved by the House subcommittee with oversight of CPB’s appropriation proposes to phase out CPB funding over the next three years; it includes language restricting public radio stations from spending their CPB aid to support NPR in any way. Another election-season threat comes from GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who has repeatedly cited CPB as one of five agencies he’d extinguish. Sequestration, a byproduct of Congress’s inability to reach consensus on debt-reduction measures last summer, could also hit pubcasting, slicing 8 percent or more from the $445 million in federal funding that pubcasters anticipate for 2013. If sequestration occurs, the government could opt to hold back part of CPB’s 2013 appropriation — a move that would trigger a reduction in stations’ Community Service Grants.
President Barack Obama released his fiscal 2013 budget Feb. 13, which, as expected, contains $445 million in advance funding for CPB in fiscal year 2015. CPB has some chance of remaining at that level for four straight years. Congress appropriated $445 million for fiscal 2012 and 2013 as well, but those amounts are vulnerable to rescission, depending on the political winds. For fiscal 2014, the Democratic-controlled Senate would repeat the same allotment while the Republican-controlled House would reduce it to zero.
Two years after the CPB funding crisis began to subside, public TV’s assigned public-policy representative, the president of America’s Public Television Stations (APTS), was giving variations on this stump speech at meetings of pubcasters. This is an edited version of David Brugger’s remarks to the FirstView instructional TV screening conference in August 1998. One of the important revelations to station professionals and lay volunteers during our last Capitol Hill Day was that their members of Congress often fed back the message they had heard from the more than 85 percent of their constituents in your home towns who said they wanted continued or increased federal funding — this, in many cases, from members of Congress who had been ardent opponents of federal funding just 18 months before. Last summer’s Roper survey showed that Americans see public radio and public television as their second- and third-best values in return for tax dollars spent. This is even higher than during the 1995 funding crisis when we were No.