State public media funding targeted in Dunleavy budget proposal

Published: Jul. 8, 2019 at 3:29 PM AKDT
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Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget would eliminate state support for public broadcasting in Alaska, which public media advocates say could have major impacts on safety alerts -- such as ones created after earthquakes.

His budget would eliminate the commission that gives state grants to television and radio stations in the state.

"What you're really paying for, when you provide grants to local stations, is potentially life-saving information that you're providing and so that's going to be compromised," Ed Ulman, the general manager for Alaska Public Media in Anchorage said. "Even though the governor believes that he's actually still funding the ARC system, we're going to have to go to our donors, our listeners, our viewers and make up that basically $400,000 gap, and that's just here in Anchorage. Stations all cross the state, especially radio stations, are going to lose about $74,000. That's going to be a real struggle for them."

The cuts were not a surprise.

The governor has vocally advocated, for a long time, that the state must have a balanced budget, and a full PFD.

And, he's proposed cuts multiple times before, including as a senator in 2017.

In an email statement from this February, Dunleavy's Press Secretary Matt Shuckerow wrote: "The Governor's message is clear: we are out of money, we are out of time, and we can no longer spend more than we have. His budget reflects a sincere effort to end the cycle of unsustainable deficit spending – $14 billion over the last four years, while focusing on the core services of government. A $1.6 billion deficit and the desire to focus on core services are primary drivers for reducing the state subsidy for public broadcasting," he continued. "Funding will continue to exist for public broadcasting from federal, local, tribal, and private entities."

Additionally, Monday afternoon a spokesperson for the governor wrote in an email saying, in part: "The FY2020 budget maintains a level of funding for public broadcasting that preserves the ability to transmit emergency alerts across rural Alaska. Together with federal grants dollars, emergency alerts will continue to occur. For example – in the event of another major earthquake or natural disaster, the state’s emergency alert system will broadcast emergency alters from existing infrastructure."

Ulman says for the cuts would impact Gavel to Gavel, which broadcasts legislative hearings statewide, as well as 360 North and First Nations Television.

He says it would impact all 27 public radio licensees spread across the state -- hitting the rural communities the hardest.

Rep. Lance Pruitt, from the special session in Wasilla, said he enjoys the work done by public media, but that it's one of the many areas that should be examined for cuts.

"Every decision that's made right now is going to be difficult," Pruitt said, and I don't care if it's public media, I don't care if it's health care related, but right now we've got to get back to getting things under control and government has to live within its means."

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