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RI’s Public Broadcasting Stations May Face Devastating Cuts Under Trump Budget Plan

Thursday, February 23, 2017


David Piccerelli, General Manager of RI PBS

For years, conservatives have been calling for the federal government to slash federal funding for public television and public radio.

For Rhode Island’s public stations — television station RI PBS and radio station RIPR — the cuts being eyed could be draconian, especially for TV.

In the past, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has avoided cuts primarily as a result of a split government and that has allowed Democratic supporters — everyone from Claiborne Pell to Jack Reed in the Senate -- to rally to save funding. The advocates for the public expenditure in support have also included local Congressional Republicans like John and Linc Chafee in the Senate and Claudine Schnieder in the House.

But this year is different. Republicans are different and budget priorities are different.


With both chambers of Congress held by the GOP and the Trump White House looking to obliterate the media, the perfect storm is building.

The Hill in Washington, D.C. forecasts tough times for public broadcasting and sees their line items in the sniper's site. “Donald Trump is ready to take an ax to government spending.”

The main architect of the Trump budget is the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation -- which has been calling for the decimation of spending on public broadcasting for years. 

In 2012, Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation wrote, “The CPB doesn't need to be on the government dole. It's not just that there are far more deserving entities and individuals to whom our tax money should go. The CPB, which oversees both the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR), has a membership plan that amounts to a fantastic business model.”

In Rhode Island, David Piccerelli, General Manager of RI PBS told Kate Nagle, News Editor, on GoLocal LIVE, that it may be too early to tell what the impact may be.

”So what we're hearing now -- keep in mind the President's budget hasn't even been submitted yet -- we have probably another two to six weeks, before it comes out," said Piccerelli. "So right now, it's just hearsay that he's going to follow the Heritage Foundation's 'map' for what little programs get in there, what little programs don't get in there. And it remains to be seen what happens after that, when it gets to Congress and they debate it based on the merits of what the programs are.”

But prognosticators in D.C. see a bleak picture for the CPB.

ABC News reported Wednesday night, “Both the RSC (Republican Study Commission) and Heritage Foundation's most recent blueprints aim to balance the budget in less than 10 years, balancing domestic cuts with entitlement reform."

Both take aim at frequent conservative targets like the CPB, AmeriCorps and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Hit for Rhode Island: Immense

“We receive $700,000 a year -- in a $3 million budget -- from the CPB, and obviously if that gets cut, it will have a huge impact our operation, as I'm sure it would on RIPR's, as I'm sure many other public television and public radio stations across the country,” said Piccerelli. 

Similarly, the head of RIPR, Torey Malatia, reports that the potential budget cuts are significant.

"It's about $200,000 of a $3 million budget (for RIPR)," said Malatia, responding to a request by GoLocal. "No surprise because by CPB policy, a TV station receives a grant roughly 3 times larger than what a radio station receives for an equivalent sized overall budget (that's a national ratio that CPB uses).”

While Rhode Island’s delegation members are strong supporters of maintaining spending for CPB, there influnece is miniscule in the new GOP dominated world order of Washington.

“The corporation for public broadcasting receives an appropriation of  roughly $445 million annually to support public television programs and grants for special education programing, or in our case, it goes specifically towards our operation budget," said Piccerelli. 


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