January 28, 2010 in Idaho

Idaho lawmakers hope to ease public TV cuts

By The Spokesman-Review

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BOISE – Idaho lawmakers aren’t too keen to pull the plug on “Sesame Street.”

Members of a key budget-setting committee Wednesday expressed doubts about Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal to phase out state funding for Idaho Public Television over the next four years.

“I just don’t see this committee doing that,” said state 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.”

State Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, the panel’s co-chairwoman, 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 donations.

IPTV gets just a quarter of its funding from the state. The rest comes from donations and federal grants; 82 percent of the donations come from the Boise area, the state’s largest population center.

Committee members said they’ve been deluged with calls and e-mails asking them not to cut funding for Idaho Public Television. “Nobody wants us to eliminate funding for public television,” said state Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle.

State 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 e-mails I’m getting from my constituents are in support of public TV.”

Lawmakers are 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 state 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 IPTV for next year is $1.1 million in state general funds, a reduction of $550,700 or 33 percent.

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