Archived Story

Government funds not needed for PBS

Published 11:37am Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dear Editor,

We all gaze fondly back on our childhood for simpler times.  For some it’s Big Bird and Kermit the Frog.  For my generation it was Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans.  Then there is a generation lost to MTV, but that’s a different letter to the editor.

One of our presidential candidates in debate expressed an unwillingness to borrow money from China to support programs such as PBS.  There was no mention of shutting down PBS – only that the organization could stand on its own without federal assistance.   The opposing candidate uses the ‘Big Bird’ reference as a punch line on the campaign trail.

So let’s take a look PBS:

For fiscal year ending June 30, 2011 PBS had total assets of $395 million.  That’s U.S. dollars, folks.   Cash, $29 million; investments, $179 million; accounts receivables, $63 million and so on.  They also have $42 million in fixed assets such as building, land and equipment.  Offsetting liabilities of roughly $100 million include accounts payable of $54 million, fees payable of $12 million and long-term debt obligations of roughly $30 million.  This leaves a total net worth for the enterprise of $291 million.  Total assets less total liabilities.

On the revenue side, total revenue was $475 million.  Included in this total are membership dues, grants,  income from investments, sales from videos, royalties, etc.  With these revenues less total program service expenses of $475 million, the ‘business’ broke even for the period.  Support service expenses of $28 million pushed the operation to a loss for the year compared to a $48 million profit for the previous year.

So, PBS is a business.  As a 503-C not for profit, privately held organization, it enjoys tax free status, but in every other way, it is a regular business with payroll, debt, revenues, assets and even retirement benefits for its employees.   They have officers and a board of directors just like every other middle- to large-sized company.  Let’s not assume this is a group of volunteers donating their time and efforts toward educational endeavors.

Make no mistake.  PBS is a fine organization deserving of public support.  The question is, does the federal government using our tax dollars have an obligation to subsidize this business, considering our  annual budget deficits and the now $16 trillion in national debt?  With $179 million in “investments” on PBS’ books, it appears they are quite capable of standing alone without government handouts.  There are many subsidized industries that our elected officials should review setting priorities in light of our limited resources and these economic times.  I’m personally encouraged someone has the courage to stand up and point out the elephant in the room.

So check out PBS on their website ( and review the numbers shared here.  If you feel strongly in your conviction, then click on the “Donate” button.  They take all major credit cards for your convenience, and you can personally go into debt rather than relying on the government to provide for you cradle to grave.


Michael L. Thaxton