Sen. Caryn Tyson leads decision to slash public broadcasting funding

Kansas Senate panel bets on soccer and aviation, but takes knife to public broadcasting. The decision stripped $50,000 — or 10% — from the $500,000 appropriated each year for public broadcasting.



February 9, 2024 - 4:02 PM

Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, convinced colleagues on the Senate Commerce Committee to cut $50,000 from state grants to public broadcasting. Photo by Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate’s commerce committee opened a budgetary floodgate Thursday by endorsing $28 million in federal funding to promote World Cup soccer events and earmarking $38.5 million for facilities in Salina and Topeka to support aircraft industry job growth.

The committee’s vetting of the Kansas Department of Commerce’s budget included a decision to strip $50,000, or 10%, from the $500,000 typically appropriated each year in support of Kansas public broadcasting.

The reduction for public radio and television was initiated by Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican exasperated by a show critical of Sen. Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican. Tyson said the program demonstrated how tax dollars for public broadcasting could be used for “political gain, political purposes.”

Tyson said the show — she didn’t specifically identify the offensive content — warranted elimination of the entire $500,000 annual state grant to public broadcasting in Kansas. That motion was defeated by the committee. Her subsequent motion calling for a $50,000 cut produced a 4-4 tie, but Erickson broke the committee deadlock to advance a 10% reduction.

“I just don’t think we can tolerate it and the way we get the message to them is by impacting their purse,” Tyson said. “That’s what the Legislature does. We have the hammer, and I’m going to swing this hammer in a large way.”

Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, opposed cuts aimed at public broadcasting because there were Kansans who valued public radio and television.

He said he was weary of right-wing internet talk show host Alex Jones, who spread defamatory falsehoods about the Sandy Hook school shooting and was ordered by Connecticut and Texas courts to pay $1.4 billion in damages to Sandy Hook families.

“I find Alex Jones very offensive,” Doll said. “Maybe we ought to cut funding for broadband, because without that I wouldn’t have to listen to Alex Jones.”

“I’m not going to let that stand,” Tyson said. “As long as you are taking taxpayer dollars, you should be responsible and beholden to the taxpayers.”

Meanwhile, the Senate committee rejected a proposed increase of $500,000 in state appropriations to the Kansas Creative Arts Commission.

Overhaul of the Department of Commerce’s budget, including the bundle of additions and deletions, would be included in recommendations to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

During the commerce committee’s debate, Doll suggested $8 million be added to Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to devote $20 million in state funding to support World Cup events in 2026 in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The committee agreed to broaden the state’s investment in international soccer competition, but proposed the $28 million be drawn from federal aid that came to the state through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“If you’re not willing to make improvements and do things right you’re not going to get people to come to your event,” Doll said.

The $35 million for construction of aviation modification, maintenance and engineering facilities in Salina would be paired with $3.5 million for planning comparable aircraft facilities in Topeka. It was approved despite objections from Sen. Virgil Peck, R-Havana, who said he didn’t see the potential return on investment and was concerned that spending could get in the way of tax reductions.

The appropriation was tied to an effort to make Kansas an air vehicle development and modification hub through investments in facilities in Wichita, Salina and Topeka.