An advance appropriation is one made to become available one fiscal year or more beyond the fiscal year for which the appropriation act is passed. For 35 years, decisions on the amount of federal support for public broadcasting have been made two years ahead of the fiscal year in which the funding is allocated. In other words, Congress approves the FY2013 funding level for CPB during the FY2011 budget cycle, its FY2014 funding during the FY2012 cycle, and so on.
From public broadcasting’s inception, the establishment of a long-range financing mechanism has been seen as critical to the nature of the institution. In that spirit, in 1975, Congress agreed to a two-year advance appropriation as a bipartisan, bicameral compromise to legislation proposed by the Ford Administration that would have appropriated funds to CPB for five years automatically upon approval of a reauthorization bill. House and Senate appropriators objected to the appropriating on an authorization bill, but they did not object to the rationale for advanced appropriations for CPB. Agreement was reached to remove the appropriations language from the authorization bill in exchange for a commitment by appropriators to provide two-year advance funding for CPB — a commitment that has been honored ever since.
First Amendment Considerations
For 35 years, Congress has supported advance appropriations for CPB with the intent of helping to insulate CPB from politically motivated interference with programming. As the House Commerce Committee report accompanying the 1975 bill stated, advance funding “would go a long way toward eliminating both the risk of and the appearance of undue interference with and control of public broadcasting … and will minimize the possibility of any government scrutiny of or influence on programming that might occur in the course of the usual annual budgetary, authorization, and appropriation process.” (House Report 94-245, Part 1 (House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce) to accompany H.R. 6461, The Public Broadcasting Financing Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-192)) With a two-year buffer in place, such influence is less likely to occur because funding for the next two years is already secured.
Leverage for Other Funds
Congress envisioned that advance funding would allow “local stations to undertake advance program planning with assurance as to the level of Federal funding available in the foreseeable future,” (House Report 94-245, Part 1 (House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce) to accompany H.R. 6461, The Public Broadcasting Financing Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-192)) and that “advance appropriations… could help to improve the planning and management of public broadcasting.” (House Report 94-245, Part 2 (House Committee on Appropriations) to accompany H.R. 6461) Indeed, this mechanism allows local public television and radio stations to include projected federal support in their budget-planning processes two years before those budgets are implemented. Importantly, stations are able to use this commitment of federal dollars to leverage critical investments from state and local governments, universities, businesses, foundations — and most importantly, viewers and listeners of local stations. According to one public television General Manager (GM), “recruitment of community partners would be seriously hindered…if stations could not confirm economic commitments to projects beyond a fiscal year…Advance funding signals to our (increasingly strapped) institutions (for a large portion of our licensees) that we will have the financial wherewithal to complement institutional funds in the delivery of service.” (Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) Survey, October 2011) Similarly, a public radio GM reports that “Considering the majority of public media operations are licensed to academic environments, it is helpful to understand funding sources two years out. Universities now are working on enrollment strategies, hiring and curriculum development for 2014. Given many stations are still embedded in the university environment …the advance funding model is very helpful.” (Station manager email to NPR, November 2011) Through this process, the federal investment is multiplied — more than six nonfederal dollars are raised for each dollar appropriated to CPB.
The advance also provides adequate lead time for the production of major programming. Signature series such as The Civil War, Eyes on the Prize, and the 2007 Ken Burns film on World War II, The War, typically require several years to produce. The advance allows producers to have essential lead time to plan, design, create, and support the programming and services that CPB is mandated to provide to viewers and listeners nationwide. As the Senate Commerce Committee report accompanying the 1975 bill noted, in words that are as true today as they were then, “program series production requires the projection of budget costs over more than one year…absent reasonable assurance as to the levels of Federal funding available over a multi-year period, the Corporation and local educational stations can undertake this kind of advance planning on only the most limited scale.” (Senate Report 94-447 (Senate Committee on Commerce) to accompany H.R. 6461, The Public Broadcasting Financing Act of 1975) According to a public television GM, “Public broadcasters…develop funding for programming that may take years to envision, develop, fund and create. National programming, but more importantly local services are evolving more and more toward the production of community collaborations that identify community needs and tell the stories that articulate and respond to those needs. The cycle of convening community, listening, recruiting partners, developing content and delivering service will often…cross multiple fiscal years.” (APTS Survey)
Additional benefits of advance funding were envisioned by Congress, and have since been borne out by experience. According to the 1975 Senate report, “without long-term funding, it is difficult for public broadcasting to maintain and attract a sufficient level of creative talent vis-à-vis the more financially secure commercial broadcast industry…And, the development of new and innovative program services, such as specialized programming for the handicapped, including television captioning for the deaf and increased radio programming designed especially for the blind, is similarly contingent on long-term committed investment.” (Senate Report 94-447)
The trust the American people have in public media is based to a significant degree on its independence from government control over content, and in that regard, the need to continue CPB’s advance appropriation remains critical. The advance ensures that public media’s programming is accountable to the American people — not political whims — and maximizes the federal investment in public broadcasting by allowing stations to better raise nonfederal dollars. In short, it empowers local stations to provide high-quality educational, cultural, and instructional programs to viewers and listeners nationwide, just as previous administrations and Congresses envisioned.