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Extension of the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority wins final legislative approval

A bill extending the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority for two years will now go to Gov. Mary Fallin after winning final legislative approval. The station is Oklahoma's Public Broadcasting System affiliate.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: May 4, 2012
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“We could spend that funding on things like more foster care to save children that are dying in the foster care system,” said Osborn, R-Mustang. “When the public steps out, private steps in.

“We do not have the right to procure money from citizens against their will for things that are not core services of government,” she said. “This has nothing to do with what a good service they provide.”

Had HB 2236 failed, OETA programming likely would have stopped this summer and all operations would have been ended within a year, said Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, author of the measure.

“They would have one year to dissolve the board,” he said. “That's how the sunset rules work.”

“We could finish off OETA right now,” said Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City.

Tax credits discussed

Dank criticized members for wanting to eliminate OETA and its $3.8 million funding. Legislators will appropriate about $6.6 billion for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Several members who complained about OETA's appropriation failed to support efforts to eliminate questionable corporate tax credits, which are costing the state hundreds of millions a year, he said.

“This is mind-boggling,” he said. “We have so many giveaways that are really giveaways in this state in terms of exemptions, deductions, tax credits and others that it's a disgrace to this state that we're talking about getting rid of the Oklahoma Educational — Educational — Television Authority that provides programming for our children in ‘Sesame Street' and other programs.

“We've got so much waste in this state that it's a sin against the taxpayers that we don't take a look at it, but you want to get rid ... of the only outlet that we have that provides the type of educational programs that serve a purpose for all of these different age groups in the state of Oklahoma.”

Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, said more people are gaining access to the Internet and cable and satellite television systems and don't need OETA as much as earlier.

But Dank disagreed, saying many rural residents don't have access to cable or satellite systems, and others, especially those on fixed incomes, may have trouble paying for those services.

“There are areas in the state of Oklahoma in very secluded areas and rural areas that OETA is the only station that they can get that provides statewide news and public service programs for those areas,” Dank said. “A large number of our seniors depend on OETA for such program as Lawrence Welk and ‘Masterpiece Theatre' ... rather than those that are full of sex and crime and violence that they have on the regular network stations.”

John McCarroll, OETA's executive director, said after the vote he was relieved the House approved HB 2236 and is optimistic lawmakers will fund the system appropriately.

He said the agency has asked for an increase in funding in order to bring back its nightly newscasts, which ended two years ago because of budget cuts.

“We would like to get that back,” McCarroll said. “We feel like we're going to be OK with our budget, but we know it's not going to be easy. It's going to be the same kind of discussion that we had down here on the floor.”