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In Other Words: SDPB picks up where others leave off

I was disappointed but not surprised to see The Daily Republic's brazen attack on public broadcasting in your Nov. 5 editorial. Using the cover of our state budget woes, and the battle cry of "no competition with private enterprise," the article salivated at the prospect of being able to take the hatchet to South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Contrary to the impression left by your editorial, SDPB has already taken its 10 percent reduction in its general fund appropriation since fiscal year 2009.

But to your competition point, let's take one small example of public broadcasting's service to the state: its coverage of high school sports. SDPB is not doing anything there that commercial broadcasting can or will do. Commercial broadcasters won't do state basketball tournaments because their networks won't allow them to pre-empt national tournament feeds. SDPB is broadcasting nearly all high school sports, boys and girls, plus fine arts, to all communities, something no commercial broadcaster ever did or can do now.

The sponsor agreements SDPB has share corporate revenues to pay for broadcast costs. SDPB is raising money with a service no one else will provide. With their statewide coverage network, they've stepped in when no one else could or would, and the partnership is a model for this service around the country.

So if you want to pick on public broadcasting, do it for some other reason than that they are "competing with private business" or doing something that commercial broadcasting used to do a small part of but refuses to do any longer. What part of their mission should they abandon? Can they raise more money by laying off fundraising staff? Do you want them to shut off the tower serving your part of the state or some other remote area that doesn't matter?

Is there some other way for an opera fan in Mitchell to see opera performances? Or do people not need culture? Do you think our democracy can survive if our citizens can't get public information that they won't pay cable TV to provide? Should we shut off the only microphones and cameras that are bringing legislative proceedings to anyone across the state with ears to hear? (Actually, as a legislator, it would be nice not to have to worry about those darn microphones all day long.)

Public broadcasting is hardly the only subsidized business in this state. What do we call the sales tax exemption on advertising revenue that all newspapers here enjoy? The last year that the Legislature proposed closing this loophole, the value of that exemption was estimated to be $5 million a year. That would more than cover the entire SDPB general fund budget. And what do we call the public funds on which many newspapers survive for publishing local government minutes that could just as well be accessed on the Internet these days? The three largest school districts in the state alone pay over $100,000 a year to publish minutes. Multiply that by the balance of the schools, the counties, and the municipalities. We could make a very large dent in our local governments' budget hole by simply modernizing our approach to the public's right to know. But that's not a subsidy?

What is more important? Bragging rights to the lowest tax burden per capita in the country or preservation of an institution that can help us maintain a shred of the culture and civic values that once made this country great? We decide, every day, with our vote and our voice.

Susan Wismer, of Britton, is a member of the South Dakota House of Representatives.