Empty-pocket states cutting $23 million from pubcast support
As states cut back their budgets, governors are often targeting public broadcasting along with other educational and arts programs. Some stations could face a total funding loss.
Larry Sidman, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, said states have pruned at least $23 million from public TV funding this fiscal year. More reductions are expected.
The National Association of State Budget Officers predicts that governors will face daunting choices at least through fiscal 2012. “Generally speaking, nearly all states are struggling right now,” the group’s director of fiscal studies, Brian Sigritz, told Current. The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities sees overall state shortfalls of $350 billion nationwide over the next two years.
All this is frightening news for stations. According to CPB, more than 95 percent of pubTV stations and 77 percent of pubradio stations receive some kind of support directly from a state government or indirectly from a state college or university.
Proposed in Idaho: to zero in 4 years
IdahoPTV stands to lose all state funding. The state-operated network’s $7 million budget counts on nearly $2 million from the state. If Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s proposed budget passes, that support would drop to zero in equal steps over the next four years. General Manager Peter Morrill announced that cuts would require laying off 19 staffers, closing three studios and discontinuing maintenance of 39 of the network’s 40 rural translators and translator relays.
Morrill will go to the legislature Jan. 27 with a case for it to assist the network and a list of cutbacks if it chooses not to. The state net is one of several Idaho government entities that could lose all state support, including the Developmental Disabilities Council, the Human Rights Commission and the Digital Learning Academy, a web-based educational program.
Otter, a Republican, not only regards IdahoPTV as “government TV,” whose day has passed, according to the Idaho Statesman, but he’s also devoted to restraining the state budget while the Democrats in the legislature contend that he’s ignoring tax revenue gains that they expect from economic recovery.
IdahoPTV’s state support is specifically for the transmission of services and other basics, including rent, the state audit’s cost and pay for 11 staffers from field technicians to the network’s CFO. “Clearly, there are not too many of those functions we can do without,” he added.
If the governor gets his way, Morrill is also considering concentrating services and spending in southwest Idaho—around Boise, the capital and largest city—where the network has the best chance for increased private-sector support: Some 82 percent of the station’s $2.9 million individual and corporate contributions originate there. The proposed budget was still in a joint legislative committee last week. Morrill expects network funding will be up for consideration late in February, with the legislature sending an appropriation bill to the governor soon after.
Morrill tries to remain hopeful. “We’ve certainly had good support in the legislature over the past 10 years, particularly during the transition to DTV.” He expects the value of public TV to be “rigorously debated” in the coming months as the funding bill moves from committee to the full legislature.
Miles: “I pray a lot”
In other states:
Pennsylvania pubTV stations: The state’s independently operated stations are still reeling from earlier devastating news from Harrisburg: Their state aid was set to decline from $8 million to $1 million, split among eight stations. Then, this month, they got more bad news: The $1 million has now been halved. And the checks have been delayed. “I pray a lot,” said WQED Multimedia President George Miles. Last year the Pittsburgh station got more than $1 million from the state for its $16 million budget. It had about 130 staffers; now it has 91. And there’s no money for travel and reduced amounts for content production and employee pensions. Miles took a 30 percent salary cut. “We watch cash on a daily basis,” he said.
Louisiana Public Broadcasting: Gov. Bobby Jindal will lock in his proposed budget Feb. 12. He’s working against projected shortfalls over the next two years of up to $3 billion as federal stimulus funds disappear. Jindal originally favored a 23 percent cutback for the network, but ultimately proposed 18 percent. The state is providing $9.3 million of LPB’s $13 million budget this year. LPB President Beth Courtney said the Louisiana commissioner of administration — the state’s CFO — told her to look at the situation not as a cut, but “an opportunity for you to change to self-generated means of support.” She noted: “I’d have to pledge every day for the next year” to come out even. The legislature must approve its budget before it recesses June 21.
Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations: Lloyd Wright, president of WFYI in Indianapolis, said that Gov. Mitch Daniels’ biennial budget proposal last year would cut all of the $3.5 million in state aid to the state’s separately owned stations, eight in radio and eight in TV. After “contentious” debate, Wright said, the legislature decided to cut $300,000 instead. “That was encouraging,” he added. But on Jan. 7 Wright received a letter from the state budget director saying that appropriation will now be halved. And this is the recommendation of a governor who has publicly said he watches and listens to public broadcasting. WFYI’s $9.2 million budget, which topped $10 million not long ago, gets a state government influx of less than 6 percent. Roger Rhodes, executive director of the stations’ statewide organization, said he is hearing of looming service cuts statewide. “It’s unrealistic to think we can go forward with a 50 percent cut and maintain services at current levels.”
Alabama Public Television: A $7.5 million appropriation makes up 41 percent of the state-operated network’s $18.3 million operating budget, said network CFO Pauline Howland. That funding is down 34 percent since fiscal year 2008. “The governor’s recommendation for state support of APT is only $250,000 more than FY98, so we’ve lost nearly 13 years of growth in state support,” she said. Last year’s cuts prompted the station to end its 25-year On the Record program and lay off four employees. The station won’t know final numbers until the governor signs the next fiscal year’s budget, probably in May.
Iowa Public Television: Iowa’s state-owned network receives nearly half of its $17 million budget from the state. All state agencies this fiscal year have already absorbed 10 percent cuts—even the legislature itself, which trimmed the length of its session, according to Jennifer Konfrst, network communications manager. Network staff furloughs of up to a week saved $107,000, which disappeared promptly into the state’s general fund. The station has stopped broadcasting overnight. It hopes early retirements and attrition will reduce staff by eight spots. Next fiscal year is “not looking any better,” Konfrst said.
Flashes of good budget news seldom compensate for the losses. CPB this month gave stations checks totalling $22 million from a special “fiscal stabilization” appropriation tucked into a big federal spending bill last month. When IdahoPTV received its $97,000 share, Morrill called it “a godsend for us at this moment.” In Indianapolis, WFYI had a successful $21.8 million capital drive that allowed it to move into a larger building with space for rent-paying tenants. In Alabama, several corporate sponsors that had dropped away have now returned.
And there’s still help from Washington. “APTS is very much aware of the draconian cuts that many stations across the country are experiencing in state funding,” Sidman told Current. “APTS is working with public broadcasting stations to explore the most effective means to alleviate this situation.”
Web page posted Jan. 28, 2010
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