By Sean Murphy
OKLAHOMA CITY — Lawmakers killed a proposal Thursday that would have slowly reduced state funding for Oklahoma's public television network, but the author of the bill said the agency still could be phased out of existence.
The House voted 57-41 against the bill to reduce state appropriations to the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority. The agency received about $3.8 million in state funding the last two fiscal years, which accounts for about 36 percent of its overall budget. Most of the authority's funding comes from foundation grants, in-kind contributions and viewer donations.
The bill would have reduced that funding by at least 5 percent for the upcoming fiscal year, and at least 10 percent for each of the next two years. It also would have extended the agency's "sunset statute" so that it could continue to exist until 2022. The network is one of several state agencies that lawmakers must periodically reauthorize with specific legislation.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tom Newell, is among a growing number of conservatives in the Legislature who argue the network is not a core function of government.
"I don't care whether OETA is liberal or conservative ... we shouldn't be giving taxpayer dollars to it, period," said Newell, R-Seminole. "I have no intention of doing away with OETA. Let them compete in the free market."
But both Democrats and Republicans in the House argued that OETA provides critical educational programming for young children and quality programs for rural or low-income Oklahomans who may not be able to receive or afford cable.
"Let's quit pretending everyone can afford cable television," said Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City. "There's passion among the people for OETA. And you'll feel that passion in the next election if you keep treating the people this way."
After the bill's defeat, Newell said another measure to extend the agency's existence still could be defeated.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said Thursday that he and many members of the GOP caucus support state funding for public television.
House Democratic Leader Rep. Scott Inman, the father of two young daughters, said the educational programs on the network are "invaluable" and that the agency's $3.8 million budget is a great investment for the state.
"We've got an opportunity to send this bill back to where it belongs — in the garbage can," said Inman, D-Del City.
Online: House Bill 2218: