Public television groups and arts advocates expressed concern over a report that President-elect Donald Trump’s team is looking to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and its sister organization, the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Hill reported that Trump’s transition team has begun outlining their plans for the federal bureaucracy that include major across-the-board cuts, of an estimated $10.5 trillion over 10 years.
Patrick Butler, president and CEO of America’s Public Television Stations, which advocates for public television funding, said that proposals to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting “have been circulating around Washington for years and have been soundly rejected on a bipartisan basis.” He noted that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives rejected such a proposal in a 132-294 vote in 2015.
The Government Accountability Office, he said, concluded after a comprehensive study that “there is no viable substitute for the federal funding that ensures universal access to public broadcasting programming and services, especially in the heartland of America where President-elect Trump’s support was particularly strong.”
The federal appropriation for the CPB in 2016 was $445 million. It distributes money to stations across the country.
The CPB issued a statement noting that a survey of 2,000 self-identified Trump voters showed that a majority backed the current level of support or increased funding.
“The federal investment in public media is vital seed money — especially for stations located in rural America, and those serving underserved populations where the appropriation counts for 40-50% of their budget,” the CPB said. “The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect. These stations would have to raise approximately 200% more in private donations to replace the federal investment. Moreover, the entire public media service would be severely debilitated.”
Public broadcasting and federal arts funding have long been in the crosshairs of conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, but such support has survived amid intense lobbying efforts among advocates and the response of the public to elected officials. Backers of public funding often point out that it represents a small sliver of the federal budget, and therefore a minimal dent in efforts to drive down the deficit.
The NEA has been a target for cutbacks going back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency, but the former Hollywood actor decided against it, said Robert Lynch, the president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, which advocates for federal arts funding.
He noted that 20 years ago, amid controversies over grants made to provocative artists, Republicans also targeted the NEA, but the agency still survived.
“We have to take this seriously, but I also note that there are a lot of pieces to the process before it is finished,” he said.
The question is whether Trump himself will support such an overhaul of federal arts support.
Responding in writing to questions submitted by The Washington Post last year, Trump said that “the Congress, as representatives of the people, make the determination as to what the spending priorities ought to be.”
Trump also said that “supporting and advocating for appreciation of the arts is important to an informed and aware society. As President, I would take on that role.”
Lynch noted that even though recommendations have been made to zero out funding, most recently the Republican-led appropriations committee has kept up funding, and even increased it, last year. The appropriation to the NEA in 2016 was $148 million.
He noted that the NEA funding gives arts groups and organizations “leveraging power” to obtain addition public and private funding sources. He also said that the nature of the NEA has changed substantially in the past two decades, as it has played a big part in community development projects and in programs for veterans groups.
“We have a lot of work to do, but I am confident we can make a case,” Lynch said.