Public broadcasters are in the fight of their life to preserve federal funding following action by a House appropriations subcommittee Feb. 22 to slash subsidies to the Corp. for Public Broadcasting.

The panel chaired by Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.) voted in a straight 9-5 party line vote to cut 15%, or $47 million, from CPB’s 1996 budget of $312 million. Porter’s panel whacked 30%, or $94 million, from CPB’s 1997 budget of $315 million.

Porter’s subcommittee also voted to cut $5 million from the National Endowment for the Arts’ 1995 budget of $167.4 million.

For public TV and radio stations, the vote could have been worse. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has been on a mission to “zero out” federal funding for pubcasters, and some Republicans on Porter’s panel said Feb. 22 they’d like to have seen deeper cuts.

Nevertheless, CPB president Richard Carlson called the subcommittee’s proposed reductions “a significant body blow to public broadcasting.” National Public Radio prexy Delano Lewis said the subcommittee’s actions “put public broadcasting squarely on the road to zero federal funding. For many public stations, zero funding means death.”

Public TV and radio stations currently receive 14% of their budget from the federal government, a figure that House Appropriations Committee chairman Bob Livingston (R-La.) said can be raised from non-federal sources. “We can’t tell public broadcasters they can raise the final 14% of their budget in the private sector? Good Lord, we’ll never balance the budget,” said Livingston.

Pubcasting officials claim the federal contribution is critical in helping “leverage” donations from the private sector. Every federal dollar attracts another $4 or $5 in contributions from individual donors, foundations and corporations, industry officials claim.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) was defeated in her bid to restore CPB funding during Porter’s hearing.