Commentary

Should Taxes Fund PBS?

Terence P. Jeffrey
By Terence P. Jeffrey | June 14, 2017 | 4:23 AM EDT

Under Trump's plan, Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding would be slashed to $30 million next year — on its way to $0. But only if the Republican-led Congress goes along.

In 2010, the Republicans took control of the House; in 2014, the Senate; and, in 2016, the White House.

Now, a Republican House, Senate and president must join together to enact the laws that fund the government.

The "Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017," signed by President Donald Trump on May 5, is the latest such law. It primarily funds the government through the rest of fiscal 2017, which ends on Sept. 30.

But as a summary published by the House Appropriations Committee explains, at least one part of this law provides funding for something through fiscal 2019.

What federal function is so important it merits funding two years in advance? "The bill," says the summary, "provides an advance appropriation of $445 million for CPB for fiscal year 2019." CPB is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The budget request that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting submitted to Congress on Feb. 9, 2016, when President Barack Obama was still in office, explained why Congress has routinely approved taxpayer funding for CPB two years in advance.

"The Corporation for Public Broadcasting requests a $445 million advance appropriation for Fiscal Year 2019," said the request. "This is level funding compared to the amount provided by Congress for both FY 2017 and FY 2018, and is the amount requested by the Administration for FY 2019."

"CPB appreciates the Administration and Congress' continued support for the two-year advance appropriation," said the request. "In place since 1976, the advance appropriation is the most important part of the firewall that protects public media's independence, and thereby its brand equity as a trusted source, from extraneous interference and control."

The "firewall" here stands between the American people and an organization that lives off the taxes they pay. The "extraneous interference and control" this organization ultimately seeks to avoid would come from the people who pay for it to exist.

Why might American taxpayers decide they do not want their money to go to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?

A good example will air June 19 on the Public Broadcasting Service. As this writer has reported for CNSNews.com, PBS that night will air a documentary entitled "Real Boy."

"A moving and intimate story of a family in transition, Real Boy follows the journey of trans teen Bennett as he navigates adolescence, sobriety, and the physical and emotional ramifications of his changing gender identity," explains a press release put out by the Independent Television Service, which produced the documentary. "Through the process, his mother Suzy makes her own transformation traveling a difficult road toward accepting that the daughter she raised is now her son Bennett."

ITVS is a San Francisco-based filmmaker that was created to fulfill a mandate included in the Public Telecommunications Act of 1988, which requires CPB to fund "an independent production service" to fund "independent producers."

CPB gave ITVS $19,268,468 in fiscal 2015, the most recent year reported in CPB's 990 forms. It gave PBS $37,231,085.

If President Trump has his way, this will stop. The fiscal 2018 budget proposal he has sent to Congress calls for an end to CPB.

"The budget proposes to eliminate federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting," it says.

"Services such as PBS and NPR, which receive funding from the CPB, could make up the shortfall by increasing revenues from corporate sponsors, foundations, and members," says Trump's proposal. "In addition, alternatives to PBS and NPR programming have grown substantially since CPB was first established in 1967, greatly reducing the need for publicly funded programming options."

Under Trump's plan, CPB funding would be slashed to $30 million next year — on its way to $0.

So the Republicans who control Congress face a choice: They can side with Trump and let Americans freely choose to produce and watch the TV programs they want. Or they can side with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and coerce Americans into paying for programs they do not want.

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSnews.com.