My turn: Government as nanny, coach and teacher

Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2005

Earlier this month when a well-meaning House budget committee voted to give $21 million to government radio and television, I winced because my constituents' money would again be spent on an unnecessary government function.

Back in 1998, when the world was engorged in oil and Alaska's financial fortunes were weaker, my colleagues were more inclined to vote fewer dollars to government programs marginally in need. With less available money at the time, we were nearly successful zeroing out radio and television.

Now that world oil prices are at an all-time high, non-essential spending on things such as entertainment continue. Once more, I wish to inform perhaps a new audience that government subsidizing of radio and television is not only unconstitutional, but also unnecessary. Let me explain.

First, government has no reason to be in the entertainment business because it's a restraint of trade. It forces private radio and TV stations to pay taxes so government can compete with them. The old argument that government-run radio was essential to rural Alaska as a means of emergency communications is no longer compelling. The Internet, now almost as common as the telephone, invalidates that argument. It is far better to have competing private interests engaged in news, weather, entertainment and political commentary than government itself.

Second, government radio and TV is doomed by its very nature to waste millions of our tax dollars on programming that many people simply don't want. We have the bizarre reality of PBS programs on art of the 16th century that is financed by taxpayers, many of whom will never tune in. Instead, most prefer a vast array of specialty shows developed through competing broadcast stations on radio, TV and cable. PBS is paid for by every taxpayer whether they want it or not, unlike private stations that are viewed (and paid for) via commercials. If we abolish PBS and state-run ARCS, the government-financed programming many consider of good quality will survive on private stations.

Third, the unfairness of forcing a country and western devotee to finance opera and symphony on PBS through taxation is painfully obvious. With private stations, you listen or watch what you want and pay no taxes for them. You have the option to subscribe and choose to buy the sponsors' products, depending on your interests. You select what you enjoy, not what a government bureaucrat can censor and decide what's acceptable and politically correct. PBS's line "If not us, then who?" implying that only they provide quality arts programming is utterly false. Who else provides classics? A&E, Bravo, the Opera, Classics, Light Classics Channels and literally thousands of radio stations that stream over the Internet do! It's wrong to force Alaskans to pay for government-run entertainment when the private sector does it much better and more efficiently.

A free society, proud and independent as U.S. airwaves used to be until the 1960s, has no use for government radio or TV Let's finally rid the state of the concept of government entertainment. We will all be better off.

• Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, is a member of the Alaska Legislature.

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