While Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has mentioned his intention to cut funding to arts programs, particular public television, before -- "Maybe Big Bird is going to have to have advertisers," he said in January -- he made this desire explicit as part of his plan to limit goverment spending in a recent interview with Fortune magazine:
You've promised to cap government spending at 20% of GDP. Specifically where will you cut?
There are three major areas I have focused on for reduction in spending. These are in many cases reductions, which become larger and larger over time. So first there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs -- the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.
According to 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting, federal funding currently amounts to less than 14% of the average local public television station’s budget, though "this federal support is critical seed money for local stations, which leverage each federal dollar to raise over six more dollars from local sources" that account for the remaining 86%.
CNN lists the prospective savings from taking away all federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting at $450 million a year, while doing the same for the NEA will nab around $170 million -- paltry amounts compared to the approximately $3.6 trillion spent by the government in the last fiscal year, though obviously these cuts are part of a larger proposal from Romney. Last year, Republican senators unsuccessfully introduced a bill proposing a similar cut to public broadcasting funding.
"Sesame Street" and Big Bird are often held up as symbolic of PBS when discussions of cutting funding come around, though according to the Sesame Workshop 93% of the show's production costs are covered by licensing activities and corporate sponsorships. It's other programs that can't count on DVD or toy sales that will suffer -- ones such as documentary series POV and Independent Lens, "Great Performances," "American Masters" and "Art in the Twenty-First Century," all of which have also seen their NEA funding cut significantly this year.