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March 13, 2013

House bill threatens OETA funding

STILLWATER, Okla. — The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority is the subject of a House bill that could alter the organization’s state funding.

According to a release from Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, House Bill 2218 would reduce appropriated funds until fiscal year 2022.

Executive Director of OETA Dan Schiedel said funding for the public television network has always been an issue. As for the reasoning behind this latest bill, Schiedel said there are differing opinions.

“Some probably believe it’s budget,” he said. “Others, programming that they don’t like. I attribute it to a little bit of both.”

The bill is authored by Representatives Tom Newell, R-Seminole, and Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, along with Sen. Bill Brown, R-Broken Arrow.

Schiedel said he visited the Oklahoma House Tuesday night, although the bill was not addressed.

“The way the bill is set right now, it’s my understanding that the next two fiscal years the funding would be either a slight increase or a flat funding,” he said.

According to the bill, starting in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, at least 5 percent of the total amount appropriated to OETA would be cut. At least 5 percent would be cut the following fiscal year in 2017 and the third fiscal year, ending June 30, 2018, at least 10 percent of the total amount appropriated to OETA could be cut. The bill states that after these three fiscal years, the legislature would “reassess the financial status of the Authority and determine if the Authority has been actively securing funds from other sources to supplant the reduction in appropriations” in addition to funds received through OETA’s foundation. According to the release from McDaniel, OETA receives approximately $3.8 million in state appropriations, a third of its funding.

“I don’t think this bill reflects the will of the people,” said McDaniel. “Public broadcasting is a rich cultural resource. People love what they get to watch on OETA and we all gain from having it. This bill is an attempt to suffocate one of the people of Oklahoma’s most valuable assets, which is already on life support from reduced appropriations from the legislature. Our constituents need to know about this bill and what we’ll lose if it passes.”

Schiedel said the passing of the bill could effect OETA’s programming and staffing.

“If they were to cut the funds, which they have done for the past four years, we would have to discontinue some of our local services to the people of Oklahoma,” Schiedel said.

“Oklahoma Gardening,” produced at the Oklahoma State University Botanic Garden and shown on OETA, may be one of many programs that could be affected should the bill pass.

Schiedel said he has talked with McDaniel and other Republicans and Democrats who have supported OETA over the years. He said he is thankful for their support. He said OETA is an intangible item that’s hard to put a finger on, but Oklahomans know it’s worth keeping. Schiedel said he expects a lengthy debate about the pros and cons of the bill on the House floor.

“We’re working with our foundation that if this does go through, how we’re going to respond to it,” he said.

Schiedel said he knows state and federal funding gets tighter each year.

“We want to make sure that we’re holding this great institution and trust for future generations,” he said.

Schiedel asks people to voice their opinions by contacting their legislators.

McDaniel said that a process should be implemented in place of House Bill 2218 to consider OETA’s future.

“This jewel in Oklahoma’s crown is a collaboration of public/private funds,” she said.

“While the state of Oklahoma provides approximately 36 percent of the program’s funding, we must work together to assure the program’s continuance and look to a strong and healthy tomorrow.”

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