Idaho Public Television (IPTV) chief Peter Morrill made his case to Idaho budget makers to not remove state funding for IPTV. He said that eliminating state money could limit public television’s reach to only major cities and greatly reduce programming because it would be difficult to find funding elsewhere.
“We don’t think we’ve left too much money on the table,” Morrill told legislators on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC). “We don’t see any magic bullet.”
Gov. Butch Otter recommends phasing out funding for IPTV during the next four years. Otter said IPTV should seek out alternative funding, including more money from private donors. State funding covered 24 percent of IPTV’s budget last year. That funding in the current budget is down 38 percent from last year, a $1.6 million reduction. In next year’s budget, which could be the first year of the four-year phase out, Otter is requesting a reduction of $550,000.
Shifting away from state money would be difficult, according to Morrill. ““We believe that these funds are some of the most difficult kinds of funds to replace,” he said. One likely change would be getting rid of 42 repeater stations in more rural parts of the state. “We would have to focus on our service to the more populated part of the state,” Morrill said. “That’s where the funding would come from.” He also said three programming channels, World, Learn and a cable children’s channel, would be shut down. State funding covers 33 of IPTV’s 57 full-time employees. Morrill said he’d have to lay off 20 workers if IPTV is phased out.
Several lawmakers on JFAC said they don’t want public broadcasting to disappear, but aren’t sure it needs state funding. “I believe there are foundations and grants out there that if we get aggressive, we’ll be able to make up a couple million dollar gap and they’ll be able to continue to function,” Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said. During the meeting, he asked Morrill if IPTV could run commercials during programming. Morrill said they couldn’t, due to federal regulations. After the meeting, Siddoway said he knew that IPTV had certain rules to follow, and wanted to make sure the rest of the committee understood. He said he wasn’t sure how much effort IPTV has put into looking for alternatives to state funding. “If I was convinced that there aren’t other sources, then I would drag my feet on the governor’s recommendation.”
Morrill said he learned about Otter’s decision two days before Christmas, and has been working on alternatives since then.
After Morrill’s presentation, several lawmakers said they support IPTV. Lawmakers won’t set IPTV’s fate until they set the budget in the next few months.