Idaho public TV cuts scaled back

Betsy Z. Russell
March 10, 2010
Spokane Spokesman-Review

BOISE – Idaho Public Television's budget was trimmed Tuesday, but the damage was far less than Gov. Butch Otter called for earlier.

Otter not only supported the plan, he'll appear on IPTV tonight to help with the network's fundraising.

Otter, who opened this year's legislative session by calling for a four-year phaseout of all state funding for the statewide public television network, on Tuesday praised a budget that instead gives IPTV a 16.2 percent cut in state funding next year, but an 8.3 percent cut overall. That's comparable to cuts being taken by all state agencies in this time of budget crisis.

"I look forward to continuing our work together on this and other efforts to help ensure state agencies live within the people's means," Otter said in a statement.

He also noted that he's co-sponsoring legislation to sharply increase a tax credit for donations to Idaho Public TV, which brings shows such as "Sesame Street" and "Idaho Reports" to 300,000 Idahoans. "All that will contribute toward a secure and self-sustaining public television system for all of Idaho," Otter said.

Otter is scheduled to make a fundraising appearance about 7:20 tonight during the airing of the "Capitol of Light" documentary, about the history and renovation of Idaho's historic state Capitol.

Peter Morrill, general manager of IPTV, said the budget won't force any further layoffs at the network, which laid off two employees this fall and has faced deep cuts in the past year. "Of course, we're in the middle of fundraising right now," Morrill noted. "If everything stays where it's at, we don't foresee any further layoffs, but there will continue to be belt-tightening."

That's a far cry from the budget Otter originally proposed for IPTV for next year, which called for a 33.2 percent cut in state funding as the first step of a four-year phaseout. IPTV said that would have forced it to shut down its statewide broadcasting network, focusing instead on the largest urban areas where it gets the most donations; it also would have required the network to repay millions in federal grants for statewide digital broadcasting equipment.

Otter later said his phaseout plan for IPTV and six other agencies was merely a "wake-up call" to spur savings.

The budget set by lawmakers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Tuesday would give IPTV $1.39 million in state funds next year, down from $1.66 million this year.

The budget still needs approval from both houses, but budgets rarely are changed once they're set by the joint committee.

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