Ventura: 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.The new Republican majority in the House also talked about "weaning" public broadcasters from state money, as fiscal conservatives looked for ways to hold down state spending and increase the size of potential tax cuts. But as the legislative session heads into its final week, public broadcasters haven't done that badly. The DFL-controlled Senate voted to provide almost as much money as public TV and radio stations asked for; the Republican-controlled House provides about one-third less money, but it does keep funding flowing to all the usual recipients - with one exception.
Osskopp: We've got a little piglet who's been at the nipple for a long time. We need to slide that hog away from the nipple so that there's a little more room for another new piglet.The "hog" which Representative Mike Osskopp referred to during that House floor debate two weeks ago is Minnesota Public Radio. MPR is a 29-station, $23 million-a-year operation with a $110 million endowment. MPR doesn't depend on state money for operating expenses, but over the last decade it has taken money for capital expenditures; usually a few hundred-thousand dollars at a time for new transmitters. Representative Osskopp says MPR's request this year for another $950,000 smacks of greed.
Osskopp: Minnesota Public Radio had the courage to come before our committee, and say, "Take a million dollars away from the children in your K-12 budget," or "Take a million dollars away from the senior citizens in the health and human services budget."The House funding bill contains no money for MPR, even though Osskopp and his fellow Republicans have made a point of maintaining funding for non-MPR public radio stations, at reduced levels. Osskopp, a commercial broadcaster in private life, says it makes sense for the state to support the less-prosperous, unaffiliated stations.
Haddeland: I feel it totally inconsistent with his free-market principles and economies of getting people off state funds, to be supporting the element of public broadcasting that is the most dependent upon state funds, and the least entrepreneurial.MPR has a reputation for using methods unusual for public broadcasters, such as for-profit merchandising companies. Recently the company took that non-traditional approach even further by proposing the Legislature eliminate state funding for public broadcasting altogether. In return, the state would allow taxpayers to donate directly to public broadcasting with a check-off system on their tax returns. The MPR proposal does not specify how the money would be distributed.
Harmon: MPR speaks for MPR, and doesn't speak for public TV, and being sure that we make that distinction is part of our ongoing effort to educate legislators.Harmon says the tax check-off idea deserves to be explored, but he says MPR showed bad timing in proposing such a radical new approach just when other stations are in a last-ditch fight for the state money they depend on. He says public TV stations will have to reduce some of their services even if the larger Senate appropriation of $4.2 million is approved, and if the House gets its way at $2.6 million. Harmon says the effect could be drastic, especially for public TV stations in smaller towns like Brainerd.
Harmon: It may mean an end to their local news broadcast. In Austin, it may well mean that it will - in time - go dark.Senate negotiators say they intend to fight hard to push the House to accept higher funding levels for public broadcasting, but at least one Senator says will be difficult to convince the House to include money for MPR. He says freezing out MPR may be the price the Senate has to pay to increase funding for stations that need the money more.