Statement of Public Broadcasters In Response to the President's 2004 Budget Plan
February 3, 2003 -- We in public broadcasting understand that the combination of a war on terrorism and a weakened economy will have a serious impact on federal appropriations, including our own.
Nonetheless, the President's budget would, if enacted, seriously compromise our ability to deliver the services we are required by law to provide to the American people.
Public broadcasting is at a critical technological crossroads. The May 2003 federal deadline for public television to convert to digital transmission is rapidly approaching. That conversion also requires that television's satellite distribution system be replaced. Public radio stations must now begin the final phase of their transition to digital due to strong marketplace and technical pressures. This combination of urgent deadlines and competitive pressures demands substantial investment now.
Although the President's budget recognizes these pressing needs, it provides no funding for these purposes. It recommends no further special appropriations to fund the transition to digital technology, and it "suspends" funding for the Department of Commerce's Public Telecommunications Facilities program, which has funded public broadcasting infrastructure since 1962. Instead, the budget would authorize CPB to spend up to $100 million of its general appropriation for these priorities. Not only would this fall far short of the need, it would reduce federal support by $100 million.
The vast majority of CPB funds go directly to more than 1,000 local public radio and television stations. These cuts would hit them at an already difficult time, when they are eliminating programming and cutting other services due to the weakened economy and deep cuts in state funding. Beyond that, they are facing a possible rescission in FY 2003 funds, that is, funds that have already been committed or provided to stations this year.
For 35 years, public broadcasters have met the federal mandate of providing universal service, meaning that every community in America has access to a wealth of independent, non-commercial programming and educational resources, as well as local services that are highly valued by their citizens. This service is deeply threatened by this budget proposal, as is CPB's investment in new national programming for TV and radio.
In addition, this budget proposal makes no provision for advance funding, ending a 29 year tradition that has allowed public broadcasters leverage for raising non-federal funding; adequate lead time to plan, design, create and support the programs and services we are mandated to provide; and a buffer from the political process. We hope that Congress will continue to recognize public broadcasting's unique needs by providing an advance appropriation.
The bottom line is that public broadcasters are able to set priorities and live within strict budget parameters, but without additional funding, we cannot build an entirely new, federally mandated technological infrastructure while also delivering the public services required of us by the Public Broadcasting Act.
We look forward to working with the Administration and Congress to ensure that viewers and listeners continue to receive the public broadcasting services on which they depend.
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Robert T. Coonrod, President and CEO, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Pat Mitchell, President and CEO, Public Broadcasting Service
Kevin Klose, President and CEO, National Public Radio
John Lawson, President and CEO, Association of Public Television Stations
CPB: Carole Florman 202-879-9811 or Jeannie Bunton 202-879-9687
PBS: Lea Sloan 703-739-5021 or Jan McNamara 703-739-5028
NPR: Jessamyn Sarmiento 202-513-2307
APTS: Jeffrey Davis 202-654-4209