Obama bolsters public TV coin

Republicans seek to ax Corp. for Public Broadcasting

President Obama’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year retains funding for public broadcasting but calls for a 13% cut in funding for the arts.

The allocation represents key backing as critics from the right have sought to erode or kill funding for public broadcasting.

Anticipating the budget battle to come, the White House is essentially laying down a marker against congressional Republicans, who are calling for much more drastic cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities and, in some cases, for eliminating federal funding for the Corp. for Public Broadcasting altogether.

The administration’s $3.73 trillion budget, unveiled Monday, includes $445 million for the CPB in 2012, including $6 million to help local public TV and radio stations expand to digital. But because the budget of the CPB is projected two years in advance, the figure that advocates of public broadcasting have been anticipating is that for fiscal year 2014. For that year, the White House calls for a 1.3% increase to $451 million.

Patrick Butler, president of the Assn. of Public Television Stations, called it a “most welcome vote of confidence in the mission of public broadcasting.”

“To be recommended for a funding increase in this time of budgetary challenge is a powerful testament to public broadcasting’s essential contribution to a well-educated, well-informed, cultured and civil society,” he said.

The administration’s support will certainly help as House Republicans call for scaling back funding for the CPB not just in coming years but in the rest of fiscal 2011 as well.

House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) proposed eliminating funding for the CPB as part of a package of $100 billion in cuts for the rest of the year, triggering an outcry from the broadcasting community as well as groups like MoveOn. Funding for stations, PBS, NPR and other entities has been threatened many times before, only to survive after aggressive lobbying from employees and viewers.

The White House did trim from the budgets of the two sister entities, the NEA and the NEH. The administration proposes $146.2 million for each of the endowments in fiscal year 2012. The figure represents a $21.2 million cut from the current budget level.

Americans for the Arts, the leading org that lobbies for arts funding, issued a statement in which it said that the administration “missed the mark with such a deep cut to the primary federal source for leveraging support for cultural programs and public and private funding to every state and community in our country.”Some House Republicans have proposed eliminating the two endowments altogether, but a current proposal on the table calls for trimming funding for the rest of 2011 by $22.5 million, immediately bringing their budget levels down to $145 million.

NEA chairman Rocco Landesman had no immediate comment, but his counterpart, NEH chairman Jim Leach, took the administration’s budget request stoically.

“This figure approximates the Endowment’s budget for fiscal year 2008. It reflects NEH’s obligation to help restrain spending in a time of great fiscal challenges for the nation,” he said.

Also of note to the media business in the new budget was the proposed outlay for the FCC of $354 million, which is $18 million more than its current operating budget. That includes $5 billion to help the FCC revamp the Universal Service Fund to bring broadband networks to rural America.

As it has for more than a decade, the FCC budget also contains authority to collect an annual user fee on unauctioned spectrum licenses that could total $4.8 billion over the next 10 years. Referred to as a spectrum management tool, the fees are slated to be paid beginning this year amid vigorous objections from the National Assn. of Broadcasters and others.

NAB topper Gordon Smith said the trade org opposes “spectrum taxes” that could imperil promises made to consumers during the transition to digital TV service.

(Ted Johnson in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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