Budget & Tax

Ray Carter | May 1, 2023

Many states do not fund PBS

Ray Carter

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s recent decision to veto legislation reauthorizing the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA), the state’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) entity, came as a surprise to many.

But if the Oklahoma government ends direct financial support of PBS, the state will not be alone.

A recent report shows 14 other states do not provide direct funding to PBS. That same report also shows Oklahoma’s current level of funding for PBS is substantially greater than the norm in at least 10 other states on a per-capita basis.

In his veto message for House Bill 2820, which would have recreated OETA, Stitt wrote, “Although the OETA may have played a principal role in the provision of educational television services at one time, today the OETA’s long-term, strategic value is at best unclear, if not outright imagined.”

He discussed the issue in further detail at a recent press availability.

“I don’t see a need for taxpayer dollars to be funding a television station in 2023,” Stitt said. “We just don’t need it. Again, nobody fights for the taxpayer, and that’s what I ran on. I represent the taxpayer.”

Critics’ response to Stitt’s veto suggested it would mean the end of educational programming in the state.

“We didn’t have cable growing up so ABC, CBS, NBC and OETA were my options,” tweeted state Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City. “OETA & PBS opened my eyes to a wider world and sparked creativity and curiosity, and it still does.”

But according to Current, a nonprofit news organization covering public media, public broadcasting receives direct state funding in only 36 of the 50 states. And PBS continues to exist in states that do not provide direct state subsidies.

In addition, OETA has previously proven capable of making up for any reduction in direct state appropriations.

In 2017, as she was demanding tax increases, former Gov. Mary Fallin highlighted OETA as an entity that had faced state appropriation cuts of 40 percent or more between 2009 and 2017. But data at the time showed that OETA’s total funding had remained constant from at least 2013 to 2017 because the reduction in state appropriations was made up from other sources.

The states that do not directly fund public broadcasting also include several where Democrats have strong operational control of government.

The states that do not provide direct funding to public broadcasting include Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

Several of those states have eliminated PBS funding in recent years, including Alaska (where the governor cut all funding in FY2020), New Hampshire (where the state ended funding for public broadcasting in 2012), Pennsylvania (where state funding ended in 2021), Rhode Island (where state funding ended in 2012), and Vermont (where lawmakers cut funding for Vermont PBS from $271,103 to $1 in the 2018 budget and eventually eliminated the final dollar of state support in the 2020 budget year).

Oklahoma state government also spends more lavishly on PBS subsidies than many of its counterparts across the country, including states controlled by Democrats.

In the 2023 budget year, Current reports that Oklahoma’s state funding for OETA was 72 cents per capita.

That was a significantly higher rate than the funding provided in 10 other states: Delaware (18 cents per capita), Florida (50 cents), Illinois (one cent), Indiana (55 cents), Kansas (17 cents), Missouri (17 cents), Nevada (22 cents), Ohio (34 cents), Oregon (9 cents), and Tennessee (10 cents).

While no per-capita breakdown was provided for New Jersey, that state provided just $1 million in direct funding to its PBS stations, which is far less than the $2.8 million recorded for Oklahoma the same year.

In addition to questioning why the Oklahoma government would pay for a television station to compete against private-sector outlets, Stitt noted that PBS programming has veered away from educational material into political advocacy and even de facto endorsement of some religious viewpoints and opposition to other religious viewpoints.

“Why are we spending taxpayers’ dollars to prop up the OETA?” Stitt said. “It makes no sense to me. And then when you further look at the programming, I don’t think Oklahomans want to use their tax dollars to indoctrinate kids. And some of the stuff that they’re showing, it just overly sexualizes our kids. There’s parents defending child transition on PBS that’s being played. There’s elevating LGBTQIA2S+ voices.”

PBS Newshour recently featured a segment attacking states like Oklahoma that have advanced legislation to prevent children from being given hormone blockers, cross-sex hormones, or sex-change surgeries before age 18. That segment included a pair of parents who claimed their son—who they say now identifies as a transgender female—“started letting us know she was transgender really before she could even speak.”

The segment reportedly did not include any opposing viewpoint from those who supported the legislation.

PBS children’s programming has also waded into social issues and effectively incorporated messages in opposition to orthodox Christian parents’ teachings on certain issues such as sexual orientation, including on shows such as “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”

The ideologies effectively endorsed in various PBS programs have drawn increasing scrutiny in recent years.

In January 2022, Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, wrote, “NPR and PBS routinely air views that are stomach-churning to at least half of America, propounding the idea that America is systematically racist, that whites enjoy ‘privilege’ no matter what their station in life, and that slavery is at the very center of our national narrative, constituting our sole origin story.”

Stitt said individuals in the private sector are free to voluntarily make and market such programming, but that they should do so without taking tax dollars from Oklahoma families who do not support those agendas.

“If you want to watch, that’s fine, but why am I using taxpayer dollars to prop that up?” Stitt said. “I don’t think we need that, and glad to veto that bill.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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