AP: Kansas funding for public broadcasting scrutinized

1/18/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — With Gov. Sam Brownback's conservative Republican allies controlling the Kansas Legislature, eliminating state funding for public broadcasting might seem one long-held goal within reach. But he's proposing to continue the aid for two additional years, albeit at a reduced level.

TOPEKA (AP) — With Gov. Sam Brownback's conservative Republican allies controlling the Kansas Legislature, eliminating state funding for public broadcasting might seem one long-held goal within reach. But he's proposing to continue the aid for two additional years, albeit at a reduced level.

Brownback told The Associated Press during a brief interview Thursday that he drafted some of his budget proposals with an eye toward what could pass, even as he pursues other major initiatives on taxes and spending. His comments came a day after Budget Director Steve Anderson told reporters that the administration has no plans to eliminate state funding for public broadcasting "for now."

The governor proposed $600,000 for operating grants for public television and radio stations during the fiscal year that begins in July and the same amount for the following fiscal year. The figure represents a 42 percent drop from the current figure of $1.04 million.

But this year's measures contrast with Brownback's proposal in January 2011 to eliminate the funding. Even after lawmakers included money in the budget that year and Brownback accepted it, he still publicly warned the broadcasters that they should prepare to lose the aid.

Brownback said Thursday that in drafting a budget, he was looking to "get it on through the process."

"So you make choices, then," he said. "We've got a lot of irons in the fire."

The effects of Brownback's proposed reductions on stations will vary and will be felt most heavily in western Kansas, said Janet Campbell, general manager of Lawrence-based Kansas Public Radio. She said she'd like the state to be more generous but gives Brownback some credit for changing his mind about eliminating the funding altogether.

"I'm just thrilled to be acknowledged by being in the budget," she said.

Conservative Republicans have argued for years that supporting public broadcasting isn't a core government function, particularly with the explosion of choices for viewers and listeners in recent decades. GOP conservatives retained their Kansas House majority and ousted moderate GOP leaders in the Senate in last year's elections.

State funding for stations' operations peaked in the 2008 budget at $3.4 million and has declined sharply since. Brownback proposed $600,000 for the same item last year — only to see lawmakers, pushed by the Senate, increase it.

During the same period, according to Brownback's budget documents, the public stations in Kansas have seen private contributions increase from $13.3 million to $14 million.

"You know, perhaps education advocacy has worked and people are beginning to understand the value of public broadcasting, particularly in our rural communities," said Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Some conservatives still aren't sold on maintaining some state funding for public broadcasting. Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican and chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee on general government, said he and others question whether it's a high enough priority to be included in the budget.

And Brownback said his administration has adequately warned stations, "this is an area that a number of people would consider not a core function of government."

But Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, a conservative Andover Republican, is skeptical that the funding will be eliminated.

"It's just a small line-item, it wasn't worth the hassle," Masterson said.

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