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Officials Rescue TV Show ‘Incredible Idaho’ Saved, But Public TV Faces Big Cuts

Just two weeks after eliminating it, legislative budget writers on Friday restored financial support for the popular “Incredible Idaho” commercial television program.

But the deal, worked out by Republican Gov. Phil Batt and Robert Krueger, general manager of KTVB-TV in Boise, was not endorsed by the Joint Finance Appropriation Committee until Krueger agreed to eventually make the television show available for rebroadcast on public television.

“Incredible Idaho,” produced by the state Fish & Game department, airs on commercial television in Spokane.

A majority on the committee then quickly turned on public television, eliminating two of its employees and $173,000 from Batt’s bare-bones budget recommendation.

Faced with the likelihood that more than $400,000 in federal support will be slashed over the next year, the elimination of the state cash intensified the pressure on Idaho Educational Public Broadcasting General Manager Jerold Garber. Idaho Public Television receives about a quarter of its cash from the federal government, a quarter from the state and the rest from private donations.

Garber said the cutbacks would not affect the educational services to schools offered by public broadcasting, but he said he has begun restructuring the operation to cope with the anticipated reduction in federal support.

“That is a body blow,” he said.

But Republican Sen. Stan Hawkins of Ucon, who led the attack on public television, claimed it was top heavy with high-paid managers and won support to eliminate two of them.

“This is a year I think we ought to be very careful,” Hawkins said. “We’re going to be seeing a slowdown in the growth of the revenue stream. … We need to pull the strings tighter on this agency.”

Others, however, maintained Idaho Public Television management was lean and salaries modest when compared to commercial stations.

Garber has been criticized every year for programming decisions. Although some of the points in dispute occurred years ago, they are continually brought up - the most common being public television’s airing of a program critical of Republican U.S. Sen Larry Craig without giving Craig a chance to respond.

“I’m not trying to be punitive here,” Hawkins maintained. “I think this is totally in line with what we’re doing here on other budgets.”

But the only jobs eliminated by the committee over the objections of the agency so far have been the one at the Fish and Game Department involved in producing “Incredible Idaho,” an attorney for the Snake River Basin Water Rights Adjudication court and the administrator of Veterans Services. And the “Incredible Idaho” and Veterans Services jobs are both being restored.