January 13, 2010
Idaho Falls Post-Register
It comes as no surprise that among the budget cuts proposed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is the gutting of Idaho Public Television.
The recession has given religious conservatives and libertarian proper-role-of-government types the opportunity they've long desired: to cut taxpayer funding for "government television."
Otter's plan is to phase out general fund dollars for IPTV over four years. Your tax dollars account for about a quarter of the IPTV budget, roughly $1.6 million per year. That, and the fact that IPTV sometimes airs shows the religious right doesn't agree with, has put public television in the crosshairs for nearly a decade.
So, what happens if Otter gets his way?
State money pays to maintain IPTV's statewide distribution system. That includes several rural translators, including one located on Menan Butte. The money also pays 11 salaries, including the field engineers who keep things running, and three power companies who provide the electricity to run the statewide system.
The idea is that private and corporate donations - essentially user fees - would replace state funding. But that's problematic. IPTV does better than other rural states in finding donors. That cow probably doesn't have much milk left and certainly not enough to make up for the loss of state funding.
What then? Public Television would become a market-based service. Like any other business, IPTV would follow the money. And where's that? Eighty-two percent of donations to IPTV come from the Treasure Valley.
Welcome to Boise Public Television.
Programming would still be seen in the state's large population centers, the Treasure Valley, the Idaho Falls-Pocatello corridor and Coeur d'Alene. But, because there's not many people or much money in rural Idaho, those folks could be out of luck.
The Challis retiree who lives on a fixed income and has come to depend on "the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" might be staring at a snowy screen in four years.
The young Lewisville mother - wary of cable television programming and its never-ending barrage of commercials - may no longer have access to "Sid the Science Kid" or "Sesame Street."
Continued service in Moscow and Twin Falls might not be sustainable without state funds. IPTV studios in Pocatello, Moscow and the Statehouse would be shuttered.
But hey, we're being fiscally responsible, right? Well, maybe not. Several years ago, Congress mandated public television stations convert to digital transmission.
The conversion was pricey. Idaho has spent $14 million over the past 10 years. The feds kicked in another $6 million and private donations accounted for $2 million.
And now we're prepared to flush that investment to save $1.6 million? It's a terrible idea and one legislators ought to kick to the curb.
Originally posted at http://www.postregister.com/story.php?accnum=1023-01132010&today=2010-01-13
The Opinion posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.