Although it was one of the most watched and listened to public broadcasting systems in the nation, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) received no state funding. With federally mandated transition to a digital-only transmission system looming in early 2009 – OPB faced the grim prospect of cutting programs and services throughout the state, especially in rural Oregon. During the 2007 Oregon Legislature, CFM worked successfully with OPB’s CEO Steve Bass to regain state funding for OPB for the first time in four years.
The Federal Communications Commission set a firm deadline: In February 2009, analog transmission systems will end, replaced by new high-definition digital standards. That presented a very real challenge for OPB because the transmission system serving rural areas uses analog transmission.
OPB had successfully appealed to the 2001 Oregon Legislature for funding to create a digital transmission system in urban Oregon. But, in the 2003 and 2005, OPB was zeroed out in the state budget process. The situation was even more severe because OPB is the backbone of the state’s Emergency Alert and Amber Alert systems that go out to the entire state. If OPB went dark, so would those signals. And rural Oregonians would be left without the OPB programming they value highly.
CFM represented OPB for several sessions through both the thick and the thin of the Legislature’s budget development process. In 2007, there was a major change. Steve Bass had taken over at OPB and set a new course, as he put it, “to put the O back in OPB.” A key step was to build improved relationships with the governor and legislative leaders.
With Mr. Bass’s support, CFM led an effort to appeal to the governor to reflect money for OPB in the 2007-09 budget he recommended to the Legislature.
Kulongoski responded by proposing $2.75 million in capital spending and $1 million in operating funds for OPB in the budget he sent to the Legislature on December 1, 2006. From that base, CFM worked throughout the 2007 legislative session with leaders of the Joint Ways and Means Committee to ensure funding. A key step occurred when CFM prodded legislators to use lottery-backed bonding as a way to finance OPB capital construction needs. That was easier than finding scarce state general funds. Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, became the prime advocate for OPB and other cultural and arts funding, pushing the entire package through to final approval.
In the final days of the legislative session, the omnibus lottery-backed bonding bill included $3 million for OPB, which is shared with Southern Oregon Public Television, to build a transmission system that covers the entire state. To meet the February 2009 digital deadline, about 50 transmission towers are now being sited and built, ensuring that rural Oregonians will continue to receive OPB programming.