Friday, January 29, 2010

Budget cuts could spell doom for public TV in valley

State Rep. Jaquet hopes to find an alternative

Express Staff Writer

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's proposal to cut funding for Idaho Public Television is quickly becoming a controversial issue, with some legislators lamenting the impact this could have on most of the state's residents.

In his State of the State address on Jan. 11, Otter put forth a plan to help reduce the state's budget deficit by eliminating $1.6 million designated to go to Idaho Public Television over the next four years.

According to the IPTV Web site, the reduction would drastically alter the network's service and effectively end transmission to rural areas, including the Wood River Valley. One of the impacts of the reduced funding would mean that IPTV would no longer be able to maintain the infrastructure that beams the network around the state, so programming would only be available, for the most part, in the Treasure Valley, including Boise and its environs.

Other effects could include the elimination of at least 19 full-time and 37 part-time positions, the closure of regional studios in Moscow and Pocatello, and the cancellation of locally produced programming, such as "Idaho Legislature Live."

This last point was noted by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred as a significant impediment to open government.

"We would lose the best asset for Idahoans to keep an eye on what their elected officials are doing in Boise," Allred said in an interview last week.


Idaho Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, a member of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, said she's remaining optimistic that the Legislature can find a way to stave off the budget cut, but said it will be difficult given budget predictions for fiscal 2011.

In addition those affecting IPTV, other spending cuts proposed by Otter would impact kindergarten through 12th-grade education and a phase-out of funding for the Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Jaquet said she is disappointed that Otter is using a projection of $2.38 billion for the fiscal 2011 budget, about $83 million less than his staff economist forecast. She was even more surprised by the $2.29 billion figure put forth in a report by the Legislature's Economic Outlook Committee.

Jaquet said that if this is the amount approved by state lawmakers, it will be a difficult process in crafting a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2010.

"There are people legitimately worried about the economy, but I think there are some who see this as way to shrink government," Jaquet said. "We are looking for efficiencies and savings, but we're being low-balled on the budget."

IPTV is broadcast locally on cable channel 10. Popular programs include Nova, PBS Newshour, Frontline, Outdoor Idaho and Idaho Reports.

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