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Arts, Humanities, Public Broadcasting on Chopping Block in Trump’s Budget Request

3-16-17

When he was leading U.S. Central Command, now Defense Secretary James Mattis famously said, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Under President Trump’s budget blueprint, he can buy $54 billion more. That’s how much Defense and Homeland Security spending would increase, offset by $54 billion worth of cuts to the State Department and virtually every other agency — large or small. The National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be eliminated entirely. NJTV News Arts Correspondent Maddie Orton has been covering NJ Arts.

A disclosure, NJTV, like other public television stations, is a recipient of CPB funds.

Of course the thing to remember is this is a blueprint. It’s the president’s budget request. The real power lies with the Senate and House Appropriations Committees. And Congress has to face their constituents every two years.

So advocates in the arts, humanities and public broadcasting communities have already started making the case to their representatives — reminding them how this federal funding directly affects their districts.

Here’s a breakdown:

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting directly funds your local PBS and NPR stations. It also helps support the infrastructure that gives 99 percent of Americans access to public media.

The National Endowment for the Arts grants funds directly to organizations, artists and nationwide programs. It also helps fund the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. That money is re-granted to help fund arts and arts education organizations in every county.

And the National Endowment for the Humanities covers areas like literature, history and archaeology. It grants money directly for programs like Dialogues on the Experience of War and projects like artifact restoration and historic document digitization. The NEH also helps fund New Jersey Council for the Humanities, which re-grants money and offers programs in each of the state’s 12 congressional districts.

All in all, we’re not talking about a big piece of the federal budget pie. The fiscal year ’16 budgets for the CPB, NEA and NEH combined were a total of $741 million. That’s less than 1 percent of the federal budget. But as president and CEO of WNET, Neal Shapiro explains that funding is leveraged to get additional public and private dollars.

“Public television really depends on the flywheel that starts with federal funding. You know it was Ronald Reagan who said the best public/private partnership is PBS because you realize that small amount — $1.35 per taxpayer — that we can take that and we can make it multiply by five or six times,” he said.

While the details are new, the story of budget cuts in these arenas is an old one. But these communities are particularly concerned this time around, because a Republican-controlled Congress could mean easier approval of the super skinny budget.

But just as the direct effects of cuts would be felt in every district, so would the ripple effects. Keep in mind, every time a show is produced at a local playhouse, audience members pay for parking and go out to dinner. Dry cleaners clean costumes, building materials are bought for set construction, etc.

Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see as President Trump’s first budget request makes its way through the process. But I anticipate there will be a fair amount of push-back on both sides of the aisle as this money has a far reach.