Alaska House subcommittee wants to cut most state funding for public broadcasting

Alaska House Finance members listen to a comparison of bills that would affect the Permanent Fund and its dividends, Feb. 22, 2016. Left to right are Reps. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)
Alaska House Finance members listen to a comparison of bills that would affect the Permanent Fund and its dividends, Feb. 22, 2016. Left to right are Reps. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

A House Finance subcommittee Tuesday proposed zeroing out state operations grants for public broadcasting, part of the effort to help close Alaska’s enormous budget deficit.

The measure was introduced by Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, chair of a subcommittee that addressed the governor’s proposed Department of Administration budget. It’s an early step in a potential $3.5 million reduction sure to rile supporters of Alaska’s public TV and radio stations.

The governor’s budget had already proposed cutting the state’s 2016 contribution to public broadcasting by $800,000, leaving $3.5 million.

Gattis’ proposal would deepen the proposed cut. It would leave only $800,000 to pay for maintenance costs so the roughly 25 radio and TV stations can continue to operate, said Tyson Gallagher, an aide to Gattis.

Gallagher told the seven-member committee Tuesday the stations have other options for operational income. He said the federal government provided about $8.6 million in grants last year.

Gattis said in an emailed statement that Alaska must reduce the size of government to address a $3.8 billion budget hole. She said she understands the importance of public broadcasting, having grown up with it in rural Alaska. But she added that the Internet and cell phones have expanded access to information.

“Personally, before I reach into Alaskans’ pockets to pay for government, this is my attempt at reducing the size of government,” she said.

The measure moves to the full House Finance Committee for potential changes and opportunities for public comment.

The two Democrats on the Republican-led subcommittee spoke about the value of public broadcasting. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, said the cuts would reduce federal grants by more than $1 million because the federal grants need to be matched by state money.

Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage and head of the House’s Democrat-led minority caucus, said he’s concerned about the damage the proposal could cause in rural Alaska.

“Sometimes that’s the only news and information they receive out there,” he said.

Full disclosure: Capital Community Broadcasting, Inc. — which operates Gavel Alaska, KTOO, KRNN, KXLL and 360North — is a recipient of the a portion of the funding at issue in this story.

This story was originally published by Alaska Dispatch News and is republished here with permission.

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