The proposed elimination of nearly $2 million in state funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network — about 19 percent of the radio and TV network’s $10.5 million annual budget — could drastically change MPBN’s ability to deliver programming to viewers and listeners.
But MPBN officials, who thought the funding was secure until Tuesday afternoon, haven’t yet proposed any specific cuts.
On Thursday, top MPBN officials focused on mobilizing the network’s 50,000 members and its statewide audience, asking them to tell state officials that they want the funding restored.
“My focus right now, my total energy, is on making sure we don’t lose that money,” Jim Dowe, the network’s president and CEO, said from his office in Lewiston. “If it did happen, there is no magic place to go to replace that money. We’d be looking to the people who currently fund us: our members, our major donors.”
The proposal to eliminate state funding for the network surprised MPBN officials and supporters Wednesday, when it was announced as an addition to Gov. Paul LePage’s list of cuts to balance the budget for the two years starting July 1.
LePage’s finance commissioner, Sawin Millett, told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee that instead of eliminating Clean Election Act funds for gubernatorial elections from his $6.1 billion budget, LePage would cut the state funding for MPBN.
The governor says his proposal has nothing to do with his past criticism of the network; he says he needed $4 million to balance the budget, and that matches MPBN’s allocation for the two years.
Dowe said the funding had already cleared the typical hurdles it faces every year — challenges and questions from various legislators and state officials. And as of noon Tuesday, MPBN officials were “delighted that we were in the governor’s budget,” he said.
Though state funding to MPBN has been reduced “slightly” in past years, the state has been a “loyal supporter” of the network generally, Dowe said. He said no one at MPBN can remember another time, over the past 30 years, when the elimination of all state funding has been officially proposed.
In 2008, with various funding sources being decreased, MPBN cut its staff and reduced wages to make up for a $900,000 budget shortfall. John Isacke, chief financial officer for MPBN, said that if the state funding is eliminated, cuts similar to those made in 2008 will probably have to be considered.
The 2008 cuts affected many areas that weren’t “mission-critical,” but that’s not likely to be true this time, he said.
“We’d really have to look at the costs in four areas — radio, TV, our statewide presence, and broadcast facilities,” said Isacke. “And in all those areas, people are involved.”
MPBN has seven radio stations, five television stations and a website, providing a mix of local and national programming to Mainers from the New Hampshire border to Canada. The public network gets about 64 percent of its funding from its members and other fundraising, and about 15 percent from federal sources.
Although state funding for MPBN is threatened, the network’s federal funding appears stable.
Earlier this year, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives tried to eliminate all federal funding for public broadcasting as lawmakers passed spending bills for the federal fiscal year ending Sept. 30. But the final spending measure held federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes the money to stations around the country, essentially level at $445 million.
“We feel the federal funding is secure at the moment,” said Dowe, “but we never give up making our case, we never take it for granted.”
Dowe said MPBN’s website will keep people updated on what they can do to help persuade state officials to restore funding. He plans to urge MPBN viewers and listeners to get in touch with their elected officials.
– The Associated Press and MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: