The prospect of clipping the wings of Big Bird came up Feb. 5 when Richard Licht, Governor Chafee’s director of administration, made an appearance on ABC6’s "On the Record with Buddy Cianci."
The host, former Providence Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci was grilling Licht on Chafee’s proposal to eliminate funding for Channel 36, now known as Rhode Island PBS, the state’s only public television station.
Chafee's proposed budget, crafted to close a projected shortfall of $120 million to $125 million, would cut off funding to the station after Dec. 31, 2012.
CIANCI: "What have you got against 'Sesame Street'?"
LICHT: "I love Sesame Street. I have grandchildren and I always watched it with all four of my children. Tough times make for tough choices."
CIANCI: "But 'Sesame Street'? My God."
LICHT: "Hopefully, Channel 36 will be aggressive, go out and find some good charitable sponsors to help support this."
CIANCI (facetiously): "Especially in this economy, they're going to just fork over $800,000."
LICHT: "We aren't the only state cutting back on public television. It's not anything that we're happy about and, again, that's something that might be reversed [if better higher revenue estimates come in], but the facts are, tough times, tough choices."
We were interested in whether Licht was correct that other states are cutting back on public television and, if so, how many.
We called the governor's office to ask for Licht's source.
Meanwhile, we talked to David Piccerelli, president of Rhode Island PBS.
"The proposal is to fund us through December 31 of 2012 and then shut off funding altogether," he said. In the current fiscal year, the state contributes $922,000 to RIPBS's total budget of $2.9 million. That's 31 percent.
Another 27 percent comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps fund stations throughout the United States. (The CPB itself has been repeatedly threatened with the cutoff of federal funds by conservatives.)
The remaining 42 percent comes from fundraising. Piccerelli said about 85 cents out of every dollar raised is from individual donors. Corporate support accounts for no more than 15 cents, down from close to 30 cents on the dollar around 2004-2005, before the Rhode Island economy took a faceplant.
Piccerelli said some states HAVE been cutting back their support; Chafee's office sent us information confirming that.
Last June, New Hampshire Public Television eliminated 20 full-time workers and cut staff salaries by as much as 10 percent after it lost $2.7 million in state funding, or about 30 percent of its budget.
At the same time, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, backed by the state legislature, eliminated funding for New Jersey public television, which resulted in the 40-year-old New Jersey Network being taken over by WNET in New York and NJN's nine radio licenses being sold to stations in New York and Philadelphia.
Stacey Karp, director of communications for the Association of Public Television Stations, said four other states -- Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania and South Carolina -- have also eliminated funding. For details, she sent us to Skip Hinton, president of the National Educational Telecommunications Association, a professional association that represents stations in every state.
He told us that 38 states were providing direct support to public broadcasting in 2007. It's now down to 32.
Of the 32, "most have seen pretty significant reductions in state funding over the last four years," he said.
At least one state -- Illinois -- increased its contribution to public television, boosting funding by 16 percent last year, following cuts in previous years.
Richard Licht, Chafee's director of administration, said, "We aren't the only state cutting back on public television."
Turns out, he’s right. Five states have eliminated funding and others have cut their contributions.
We rate his statement True.
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ABC6, "On the Record with Buddy Cianci," Feb. 5, 2012
Interview, David Piccerelli, president, Rhode Island PBS, Feb. 7, 2012
E-mail, Lindsay Reed, Governor Lincoln Chafee's office, Feb. 8, 2012
NHPTV.org, "NHPTV Restructures Due To Elimination Of $2.7 Million State Appropriation," June 1, 2011, accessed Feb. 8, 2012
NJ.com, "NJN signs off today, leaving 130 people out of work," June 30, 2011, accessed Feb. 8, 2012
Interview, Stacey Karp, director of communications, Association of Public Television Stations, Feb. 9, 2012
Interview, Skip Hinton, president, National Educational Telecommunications Association, Feb. 10, 2012.
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