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Public Broadcasters Decry Cuts
By Chris Roberts
January 29, 1999
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Part of MPR's budget series

One of the losers in Governor Ventura's budget proposal is public broadcasting. Ventura says he wants to gradually eliminate state subsidies for public radio and public television stations in Minnesota. The stations, some of which are in rural areas, say it's money they can't afford to lose.

PUBLIC RADIO STATIONS IN MINNESOTA got nearly $2.2 million dollars between them this biennium. Governor Ventura wants to eliminate that state funding in three years. Public television got $3.4 million from the state in the current biennium. Under Ventura's plan, that would be left alone in the first year, then phased out over the next three. Ventura says his budget asks all Minnesotans to stand on their own two feet, and he says public broadcasting should do the same.

Ventura: If there is a problem, it's that I come from the other side of radio where we have to go out, and we earn it, and we have to get advertising and we do those things without being the beneficiary of public subsidy. And I just, I think it's a way to wean you off public subsidy. I think you can make it on your own.
But public broadcasting advocates say it's not that simple. Take MPR, for example. Minnesota Public Radio uses its allocation exclusively for capital projects. In a written statement, Will Haddeland, MPR Vice-President of Public Affairs, says the appropriation has allowed MPR to " build stations in rural, underserved markets, and build what many call the best public radio system in the nation". The appropriation of about $100,000 makes up between two and three percent of MPR's total budget. Smaller radio stations are much more dependent on state funding, and the existence of some may be threatened if Ventura's proposal is approved. State funding accounts for 11 percent of the operating budget of KAXE, a tiny community station in Grand Rapids. KAXE's General Manager is Maggie Montgomery.
Montgomery: We're a radio station way out in the woods. We have about six fulltime staff and, at the rate we pay people, that's about half staff people out of six that would be cut. That would be our entire part-time staff or it would be all of our NPR programming, all of our dues for National Public Radio.
Public television doesn't face any cuts this year, but Twin Cities Public Television President Jim Pagliarini says losing state funding down the road would still be devastating. Pagliarini says state money, approximately $500,000, makes up two to three percent of KTCA's budget. Greater Minnesota stations are more dependent on state funding. However Pagliarini does not believe all is lost yet.
Pagliarini: I think the Governor brings to state government exactly what the people who elected him to state office wanted him to bring, which is a very healthy skepticism about how we're spending public resources. And I've also seen the Governor, since he's been elected, come into situations with an assumption but not be closed-minded about the assumption. And I'm very optimistic. I don't entertain the notion that, once we make our case, that he'll conclude that we're not worthy of state support.
This debate has the potential to create some unlikely allies in the legislature. DFL Senator Dick Cohen of St. Paul, Senate Finance Committee Chair and longtime supporter of the arts and public braodcasting, is pledging to restore full funding in the state government finance bill. In the House, Republican Representative Mike Osskopp of Lake City also believes Governor Ventura has made a mistake. Osskopp, a former commercial broadcaster and one of Minnesota Public Radio's most vocal critics, believes Ventura is confusing MPR's success with other less-fortunate public radio and tv stations.
Osskopp: As I learned in my first two years in the Legislature, there's MPR but there's also a wide variety of much-smaller public broadcasting stations, public television. There are spots on the Iron Range where public television is the only thing that comes in.
And such stations, says Osskopp, deserve state support. So the stage may be set for a number of debates. On one level, lawmakers may be asked to decide whether Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television should receive public funding. On a larger level, there's the question of whether public broadcasting should be forced to compete unaided in the marketplace of the airwaves.

Chris Roberts covers arts and cultural affairs issues for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach him at .