Proposed public broadcasting cuts are a mistake

This letter appeared in the Speaking Out section the Sunday, February 20 edition of the Democrat and Chronicle:

Once again, Congress is debating a resolution to eliminate all federal funding for public broadcasting. If successful, the results will be fewer educational programs and services for our community. With the daunting challenges facing our schools and region, is this a "cut" we can afford?

While ideology always seems to drive these efforts, this year public broadcasting is again on the chopping block. We all understand the need to bring deficits under control, but eliminating funding for public broadcasting won't even make a dent in the national debt. What it will do is fundamentally change what we know as "public media" in our country.

In a recent newsletter sent to every public television station in the country, WXXI was described as a "national model" for support for adult literacy. We were also cited for our "Ready to Learn" children's programming and other ways we help children be ready for success when they enter school. These are the kinds of programs that federal funding helps support. Workshops with teachers and caregivers on using children's programming as an educational tool, not a babysitter. Partnerships with BOCES and others to give people a second chance at a high school diploma. Programs that inspire learning and seek to improve the quality of life in our community.

Not a week goes by that I'm not stopped at the grocery store, the gym or even at dinner by someone who expresses the importance of WXXI. The phrase "safe haven" for children is one I often hear. Others talk about the way our "Reachout Radio" service is a lifeline for relatives who are blind or have visual impairments. For others, it's news they can trust, talk shows that respect the listener, music that supports the RPO and other local institutions, and the coverage we give to our community's wonderful arts and culture.

Federal funding helps assure that public broadcasting is universally available, free of charge, to the entire nation. The annual cost per taxpayer? About $1.39, what you'd spend for a cup of coffee. During the recent financial crisis, our nation spent hundreds of billions of dollars to preserve some industries and, in other cases, to bail out poorly managed institutions. We don't need a bailout — just the continued modest investment in an institution that pays dividends to our community every single day.

A recent federal report concluded the nation could save almost as much money by stopping unnecessary government printing as by cutting funding for public broadcasting. As we work to put our fiscal house in order, let's be sure we don't start by cutting programs that make a positive difference in our community. That's a reduction none of us can afford.

For an update on the federal funding debate and a way to contact your Senators, please click here.