Dialing back dollars (cont.)

Ben Botkin
February 14, 2010
Twin Falls Times-News

Tuned in to tight cuts

Cuts aren't new to IPTV, which saw state funding slashed from $3.2 million in 2009 to $1.6 million this year. When Otter's office sent out a request in September for agencies to review general funds for possible reductions, IPTV management said it couldn't happen without a major impact.

"With budget cuts last fiscal year and in the FY10 base, we can make no further reductions in costs without significant reduction in services and the ability to respond to our constituents," Morrill wrote in a Sept. 18, 2009, memo to the State Board of Education. "We regret that we are unable to voluntarily reduce our General Fund appropriation without significantly impacting the viewers we serve."

Later that month, as part of a holdback proposal across state agencies, IPTV's share was 7.5 percent, or $124,500. As a result, IPTV laid off two employees, froze a third open position, and added a fifth furlough day for its employees.

Morrill said no suggestions were given at the time because cuts couldn't be made without layoffs.

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and co-chairman of the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee, said IPTV has to be part of the cuts after a decline in revenues.

"They will see a reduction like everybody else," he said. But he added that JFAC's role is to set the next year's budget, not pass a plan for IPTV's funding for the next three years, like what is outlined in Otter's four-year plan. Any move to end all state funding would be a policy decision not made in JFAC, he said.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said rather than cut all state funding in four years, she said the best thing is to cut a percentage of IPTV's budget that mirrors what other state agencies will face. She's also encouraging her constituents to donate more to IPTV.

Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, said IPTV funding has to be balanced with crucial budget needs facing the state, ranging from education to corrections.

At the same time, he said, it's important to maintain some level of general-fund support for IPTV to help preserve legislative oversight of the agency.

IPTV would also need to pay back the federal government for grants used on equipment no longer in use.

"We are estimating we will have to pay back the federal government $1 (million) to $2 million worth of funds because when they give you money you guarantee to operate it and maintain it according to the original grant," Morrill said. "We would have to go through 10 years worth of grants to notify all those federal agencies that the equipment they helped pay for isn't being maintained anymore."

Clicking off state support

In the debate, Oregon Public Broadcasting has been praised as a system that does well without a strong reliance on state dollars.

"Oregon Public Broadcasting broadcasts in a neighboring state that is practicing some of what the governor has suggested in Idaho," Hanian said. "Each state is different, and we are not suggesting OPB be used as the sole model IPTV should follow. We are not trying to dictate what model they follow. However the governor has made it clear that there are public television operations that have already eased their burden on state general fund expenditures."

However, IPTV officials and station managers from other Western states say Oregon's larger population gives OPB an advantage. Oregon has about 3.7 million people, while Idaho has roughly 1.5 million.

Becky Chinn, communications director of OPB, said the state's population helps fundraising efforts rural communities can't cover on their own.

In 2002, OPB lost its state funding, which was about

10 percent of its budget. Staff was cut along with a Friday night public-affairs program. At the same time, OPB took steps to inform the public about the funding loss. Now OPB gets only $62,500 from the state.

"We built a lot of awareness with our audience about the fact that the funding is gone," Chinn said.

Small-state squeeze

Other states with smaller populations depend more upon state funding. Wyoming Public Broadcasting Service, for example, gets about 45 percent of its budget from the state.

The Wyoming Legislature in 2009 reduced state funding by 10 percent, or nearly $200,000, said Bob Connelly, assistant general manager for WPBS. That cut is expected to stay in place and be spread out the next two years.

"It's absolutely critical," Connelly said of state funding. "We could not survive as a station and as a system without it."

Connelly noted that Wyoming's broadcast system is similar to Idaho's.

The rate of return, or the percentage of viewers donating to public television, must be factored with the population, Connelly said. For example, if one in 10 people in Wyoming donated, that would come to about 52,000 donors for the state.

In more densely populated areas, a 10 percent rate of return among millions of people means more donations. At the same time, rural systems such as Idaho and Wyoming need more transmitters to reach fewer people than one transmitter in Portland can reach.

William Marcus, a general manager for KUFM TV, a Montana public television station, said the state's public broadcasting service gets a little more than $1 million in state funding, which is about a quarter of its budget.

That funding goes to pay its core staff at stations in Missoula and Bozeman.

"If all of our state funding were to disappear, I'd like to think we'd still be around, but we'd be a dramatically different service," he said.

Ben Botkin may be reached at bbotkin@magicvalley.com.

Originally posted at http://www.magicvalley.com/news/local/article_f834ee5a-1e20-5e8b-8f96-1793aa33966d.html

The News Story posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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