BOISE – Although Gov. Butch Otter has proposed a four-year phase-out of state funding for Idaho Public Television, the plan likely would force the network to make deep cuts next year, including shutting down service to much of rural Idaho and laying off a third of its staff.
“We would actually look at implementing many of these changes on the front end, because of the factor of having to go through and pay back federal grants,” said IPTV General Manager Peter Morrill.
IPTV also has $1.3 million in pending federal grants that it might not be able to take if the cuts happen; for now, it’s “stalling” on those.
Idaho lawmakers cut off funding for Idaho Public TV once before, in 1981, when it consisted of three stations at the three state universities. The move caused a public outcry, and a year later lawmakers re-established IPTV as a statewide network.
Morrill was the director of “Idaho Reports,” the long-running program that covers the state Legislature, when the funding was cut.
“It was an extremely stressful, extremely awkward time,” he said. “It was like photographing your own funeral.
“There were significant and brutal cuts” at the eastern Idaho and North Idaho stations, Morrill recalled, essentially shutting down stations based at the University of Idaho and Idaho State University. The Boise area saw fewer cuts because it had a much larger population of private donors – a pattern that could be repeated if lawmakers approve Otter’s proposal.
Today, 82 percent of IPTV’s individual and corporate donations come from the Treasure Valley, the area surrounding Boise.
“I’m not an economist, but I do raise money,” Morrill said. “If we are pushed into this, I know that we’ll have to serve the people that donate the most amount of money or we will not be a viable organization.”