BOISE - Idaho lawmakers on a key budget-setting committee were decidedly unenthusiastic Wednesday about Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal to phase out all state funding for Idaho Public Television over the next four years.
“I just don’t see this committee doing that,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, the co-chairman of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “We’re not going to fund based on what we think is going to happen the next year or the year after that. … They’re going to be subject to the same level of reduction as everyone else.”
Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, the panel’s other co-chair, said, “It’s my personal feeling that they’re part of the education system.” Without state funding, she said, the system couldn’t serve all of Idaho’s rural areas.
Idaho Public Television General Manager Peter Morrill made his budget presentation to the joint committee on Wednesday, and went over what the governor’s proposal would mean - pulling back from a statewide, “public service” model for the public TV network to a “market-driven” model that would focus on the state’s biggest-population areas, source of the vast majority of its private donations.
IPTV gets just a quarter of its funding from the state. The rest comes from private donations and federal grants, and 82 percent of the donations come from the Boise area, the state’s largest population center.
Lawmakers on the joint budget committee said they’ve been deluged with calls and emails asking them not to cut out state funding for Idaho Public Television. “Nobody wants us to eliminate funding for public television,” said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said her constituents have been asking her “not to cut it - to find someplace else to cut.” Said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, “The only emails I’m getting from my constituents are in support of public TV.”
Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, said, “There’s a lot of support out there, but we have to weigh it against the other needs and wants of the state.”
Lawmakers are a bit miffed at taking the heat over the proposal, at a time when they’re all up for election. “It’s pretty hard to go home and tell someone that your grandbaby isn’t going to be able to watch Sesame Street any more - maybe if you move to Boise,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. “I don’t think the committee will have the stomach to do that.”
Keough said she’d like to see IPTV officials try more fundraising in rural areas, and not just give up on them. She noted that Sandpoint residents raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help area residents who were ill, and the community came together to save the local Panida Theater.
“I’d like to see a little more aggressive effort before they wrote rural Idaho off,” she said.
Bell said she hopes Morrill and his team get together with Otter and talk about “business plans,” as state Parks Director Nancy Merrill did, prompting Otter to drop his “conceptual” proposal to eliminate the state Parks Department.
“I have a little ray of hope that they’re working with the governor’s office to try and find a business plan that may be more to his liking,” she said.
But Morrill said he’s not yet identified a “statue of liberty play” to make up for the network’s $1.66 million in annual state funding.
The governor’s proposed budget for Idaho Public TV for next year is just $1.1 million in state general funds, a reduction of $550,700, 33 percent.