House Democrats and Republicans — rural and urban, young and old — joined together Thursday to pull the plug on a bill intended to gradually reduce the amount of state funds appropriated to Oklahoma's public television system.
House Bill 2218 would have reduced state appropriations to the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority over the next 10 years.
The measure failed 57-41. All 29 Democrats and 28 of the 72 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against it.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said he hoped the strong showing of support for OETA will stop future efforts for at least the next couple of years.
Lawmakers last year appropriated $3.8 million for the public television station.
Inman said it was hypocritical to cut OETA's $3.8 million appropriation at the same time that Republican leaders are seeking a personal income tax cut that would cost $120 million a year when fully implemented.
Republican legislative leaders and the governor will have the final say on funding for OETA when they prepare the 2014 fiscal year budget, but they should remember Thursday's vote.
“If they run out a budget this year that cuts income taxes and zeros out OETA, that budget would have a difficult time passing,” Inman said.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said he, along with the members of his Republican caucus, support OETA.
Senate Republicans have a 36-12 majority.
“We are continuing with our funding support of OETA that provides good programs, good educational programs,” Bingman said. “I support OETA and I think our caucus will certainly support that. I have not heard of any strong movement at this point to talk about defunding OETA.”
Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, the author of HB 2218, said his intent was not to do away with OETA, but to have private donations, which make up about 60 percent of the system's budget, gradually replace state appropriations.
Opponents of HB 2218 defended OETA for its excellent children's programming and documentaries.
For many Oklahomans who don't have cable or a satellite dish, OETA is the only Oklahoma TV station they can watch, said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove. About 20 percent of Oklahomans, or about 700,000, can't afford cable television, he said.
Rep. Wade Rousselot, D-Okay, told lawmakers how his grandmother in rural Oklahoma watched “The Lawrence Welk Show” every Saturday when he was a youngster. Rousselot, who has a satellite dish, said he is disgusted with the lack of quality family program on commercial television stations and networks; his family often watches OETA's programs, including the Lawrence Welk reruns.
Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, voted against the bill because he said he wanted state appropriations for OETA to end immediately.
“Why not phase it out right now?” he asked. “Why don't we just get rid of them now?”