The conservatives are building momentum, in one form or another, to cut funding to the influential radio, television and Internet system that provides badly needed news, sophisticated analysis and foreign reporting at a time when market-driven news corporations have chopped away at their assets in pursuit of ever-dwindling net income (or so they say).
Here in Virginia, Gov. Robert McDonnell wants to stop $4.2 million in state funding for Virginia’s NPR stations. In Washington, the Republican-led House of Representatives wants to cut far more across the nation. Rationale for the cuts runs the gamut from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who complains that NPR is too liberal, to others who say that the government has no business being in the media business.
One argument is that NPR should be on the chopping block because of the budget crisis dogging Virginia, other states and the federal government.
True, Virginia is billions in the hole for roads, education and other critical needs. But that’s the fault of the General Assembly, not state NPR stations. Last year, McDonnell seemed to pull a rabbit out of the hat by coming in with a budget surplus, but he did so by playing accounting tricks with the state retirement system. As far as roads go — poof! — suddenly there was an extra billion lying around left by Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine for a rainy day.
So, just how bad is Virginia’s fiscal crisis anyway? Let’s look at ways we can find the $4.2 million to save NPR funding. Consider these:
•The Post has reported that as the state is crimping on funding help for education and the mentally ill, the General Assembly renewed a $45 million annual provision for two big utilities, Dominion and Appalachian Power, to buy coal mined in Virginia. The measure has been on the books since 1999 and gives tax credits worth $3 per ton for Old Dominion coal. Why is this government welfare needed? Metallurgical coal, which the state produces, now fetches $200 a metric ton. Global demand for Central Appalachian met coal is so strong that Norfolk Southern railroad is scrambling to come up with 2,500 new or leased hopper cars, and collier ships are backed up at anchor in Hampton Roads. Why does coal need help?
• Amazon.com doesn’t pay state sales taxes. Here’s a company that brings in tens of billions in revenue by selling goods over the Net. Virginia should think about getting its share. Back in the early days, people like then-governor George Allen, anxious to embrace the “digital Dominion,” fought taxing the Web. Well, that was then. Amazon.com isn’t exactly a start-up anymore.
•The gas tax. We pay among the lowest of any state in the country. This is the simplest solution.
So there you have it. Finding $4.2 million to save NPR funding shouldn’t be that hard, just as it shouldn’t be to ease the pain for the sick and students who need an education. It’s time to get past the financial-crisis panic mentality and the worry-mongers.