Some of the talk in Washington is, what has become of the Republican revolution? ABC News analyst George Will points out that the Republican Congress hasn?t even succeeded in terminating federal subsidies for public radio and TV. But at least one politician has decided to take on the public broadcasting establishment. He?s on the state level, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, the former “pro” wrestler who ran on the Reform Party ticket.
When Ventura spoke to the National Press Club in Washington on February 22nd, his proposed cuts in state subsidies for Minnesota public broadcasting were on the top of the agenda. He was introduced by a journalist who wondered if Ventura could get away with those cuts. And, during the question-and-answer-period, other reporters wanted to know how Ventura could defend his decision to discontinue public payments to such a beneficial public institution.
Showing the determination and independence that made him Governor of Minnesota, Ventura strongly defended phasing out public funding of public radio and TV, saying he?s in favor of a “corporate welfare to work” policy. He said this was an extension of the “welfare to work” policy that has gotten millions of people off the welfare rolls and into the private sector. He wondered why this wouldn?t work for corporations and organizations that get government subsidies.
Ventura says he has worked for radio stations that have to generate their own revenue. “We have to go out, and we earn it,” he said. “We have to get advertising…” Ventura pointed out that the state subsidies amount to only 2 percent of the public broadcasting budget ? about $6 million ? and that public TV and radio get most of their money through fundraising in the private sector anyway. Therefore, complaints about the proposed cuts are wildly exaggerated. He said public radio and TV should “stand on their own two feet” without taxpayer support. He points out that he wasn?t cutting the money off completely, all at once, but was phasing out the subsidies over time. He called it “weaning them off” the public payroll.
Despite the soundness of Ventura?s policy, a visit to the Minnesota public radio web site disclosed that the complaints are continuing. One story was headlined, “Public Broadcasters Decry Cuts.” The story concluded by wondering “whether public broadcasting should be forced to compete unaided in the marketplace of the airwaves.” The question is prompted by the realization that public radio and TV may not be able to compete because people don?t want to buy what they are selling.
Ventura had the answer to that. His new budget includes tax cuts ? money for people who can then decide what to do with it. If the people like public radio and TV, Ventura said, let them send the money from their tax cuts to public broadcasting. This makes all the sense in the world. But it?s not at all clear that Ventura?s proposals are going to be approved by the Minnesota state legislature. Both Democrats and Republicans are expressing opposition to cutting the state subsidies for public radio and TV. This bipartisan attitude may be one reason why someone like Jesse Ventura got elected in the first place.