- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

The House has postponed a vote on an appropriations bill that would eliminate funding for two Public Broadcasting Service educational programs and for a digital transition that the stations must accomplish by 2009.

The House Appropriations Committee eliminated about $85 million in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which provides money to PBS and National Public Radio stations.

The proposed funding, which is included in the fiscal 2007 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations bill, would represent a 17.4 percent reduction from CPB’s current levels.

Public broadcasting faced similar cuts last year when the House voted to cut $123 million in funding, which was restored by the Senate and approved by Congress.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat and minority whip, yesterday on the House floor asked Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and majority leader, why the Labor-HHS-Education would not be voted on next week as planned.

The bill includes an amendment, sponsored by Mr. Hoyer, that would raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour by 2009. He said he expects it to remain when put to a full vote.

Mr. Boehner said only that he wanted to continue to work with the appropriators and did not expect to consider the bill next week. His spokesman did not return calls for comment yesterday.

The House committee eliminated funding for the PBS “Ready to Learn” and “Ready to Teach” educational programs among more than 50 total program cuts, said Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield.

“In tight, budgetary times,” the committee had to prioritize, and funding for Pell grants for needy students and other programs was deemed more important than public broadcasting, Mr. Scofield said this week. He added that CPB funding remained at $400 million total for fiscal 2007 and 2008.

The cuts were supposed to be bigger, but $20 million was restored before the full committee vote.

“While we appreciate the House vote to restore funding to the CPB appropriation, the appropriations bill still represents significant cuts to public broadcasting that will drastically reduce the programming and services public television and public radio can provide to local communities and that are greatly at odds with important national goals,” said Paula Kerger, PBS president and chief executive officer. “In addition, by rejecting digital funding, the committee is jeopardizing public television.”

Public television and radio stations need about $700 million more than their current funding over the next five years to pay for the equipment to switch from analog to digital broadcasts, according to a report released in December by the Digital Future Initiative panel, a group of 15 public broadcasting system experts.

Congress last year approved a Feb. 17, 2009, deadline for switching to the digital transmission of all TV content.

Federal funding accounts for about 15 percent of public broadcasting budgets.

About half of the nation’s 850 public radio stations that have not made the digital transition risk being “frozen out of a very critical technology for fulfilling future public service obligations” without proper funding, said Mike Riksen, NPR’s vice president for government relations.

Whenever the House votes, industry insiders do not expect it to restore the cuts to the PBS programs or for the digital transition, but are hopeful the Senate, which has traditionally been more supportive, will do so. The Senate is expected to take up the issue next month.

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