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Idaho Arts, Public Broadcasting Organizations Respond to Trump Plans to Cut Federal Funds

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- The effect of federal spending cuts could be calamitous. -  - TASHATUVANGO/123RF
President-elect Donald Trump is ringing a familiar bell: Cut federal spending on arts and broadcasting to save money.

According to a report from The Hill, the transition team has floated privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. If the plan goes through, it could have profound consequences for education, arts and public television and radio in the Gem State.

"That's some real bread and butter for Idaho arts," said Idaho Commission on the Arts Executive Director Michael Faison. "Saddle-making, silver engraving, rawhide braiding—they're assisted through these funds. We are the conveyors of these masters in the traditional arts."

The proposed cuts would be "inconvenient" to more populous states, where state money and private donors account for up to 90 percent of similar organizations' budgets. In states like Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Montana, however, Faison said slashing federal funding would "be a significant diminishment"—50 percent for the ICA alone.

This isn't the first time federal support for such programs has been threatened. During the Reagan administration and again when Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House of Representatives in the mid-1990s, similar efforts to defund spending on arts and public broadcasting were defeated.


The Trump administration is still "getting its sea legs," Faison said, and although efforts to reduce or eliminate funding are taken seriously, leaders of organizations that receive these funds aren't panicking over the news—yet.

"The American public finds enormous value in the work we do, and they let members of Congress and the administration know of their support," said Idaho Public Television General Manager Ron Pisaneschi.

Pisaneschi said approximately $1.5 million of IPTV's roughly $8 million budget comes from CPB. Slashing those funds would be a disaster for locally generated programming like Idaho Reports, as well as national programs like American Experience and The News Hour.

Changing the funding mechanism for public broadcasting would have another consequence: wiping out television and radio service to rural communities, where economic factors prevent private media companies from broadcasting.

"Smaller cities and rural areas would be hardest hit," said Boise State Public Radio General Manager Tom Michael. "For an organization like ours, which serves a lot of rural Idaho, we'd struggle to serve underserved areas. As funding decreases, providing those services becomes more of a challenge."

In some of those areas, public broadcasting has been used to alert communities to potential threats, like violent storms and wildfires.

Though 10-15 percent of BSPR's annual budget comes from federal sources, public dollars act as "seed money" to attract private donations that make up the bulk of public broadcasters' budgets. According to Protect My Public Media, for every dollar spent by the federal government on public broadcasting, "viewers like you" raise an additional $6. Public media costs each American approximately $1.35 per year.

However, leaders in public broadcasting and the arts aren't taking the news laying down, said Idaho Humanities Council Executive Director Rick Ardinger. Funds through the NEH contribute 60-70 percent of Ardinger's annual budget, and he has been in contact with heads of similar organizations to reach out to members of Congress and "mount a campaign to fight it."

In an email to the 18-member IHC board of directors, Ardinger said the organization still plans to award grants in February "even though we are uncertain what we ultimately will receive for FY 2017 from the NEH later this spring."

Under the proposal from Trump's transition team, CPB would be restructured into a private entity, but programs that fund arts and humanities would be eliminated entirely. The move, were it to clear Congress, would deal a crippling blow to production and education in those areas.

Idaho organizations potentially under threat of funding cuts could have an ally in their fight: Republican Rep. Mike Simpson. He sits on the House Appropriations Committee; the Interior and Environment Subcommittee; and the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. The Appropriations Committee oversees funding for the NEA, NEH and CPB, and the Representative has historically been a supporter of public funding for the arts, humanities and broadcasting.

Pisaneschi has been in contact with Simpson's office.

"[Simpson] has been a supporter of ours over the years." Pisaneschi said, adding Simpson "has shown indications" of continued support.

(Simpson's office could not be reached for comment.)

Public funding of the arts and broadcasting has been popular with fiscal conservatives and budget hawks in the past. The NEA and NEH are lean organizations that allow funds funneled through them to be used according to individual states' priorities. Faison said the NEA "is the kind of agency many people would like to see in D.C."—examples of "federalism in action."

The major changes and cuts are part of a broader program that would include slashing the budgets of the departments of Commerce and Energy to reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over the next decade, but critics of the cuts say trimming public broadcasting and support for the arts and humanities would be drops in the proverbial bucket. In 2016, CPB received $445 million, the NEA received $148 million and NEH requested $148 million. For scale, total government spending in 2016 according to the Congressional Budget Office came to $3.9 trillion. According to The Washington Post, their combined budgets account for approximately .02 percent of all federal spending.

"This is not where you're going to find the resources needed to balance the federal budget over time," Faison said. "It could be a rounding error."

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