Do the math

Do the math
We urge all of our readers to take this weekend to contact Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark (phone 605-532-4088 � home, or 605-532-3799 � work); Sen. Jerry Apa, R-Lead (phone 605-722-1515); and Sen. Bill Napoli, R-Rapid City, (phone 605-341-2370 � home, or 605-348-7373 � work).

And during your phone conversation with them, if you're lucky (judging by news reports, these three men have a propensity towards not listening to the opinions of others), we encourage you to have the men explain the math to you.

Greenfield, Apa and Napoli, all members of Senate Appropriations Committee, gave us all, and particularly South Dakota Public Broadcasting, a sucker punch just before the legislative session began its recess Feb. 28.


On that day, out of nowhere, the committee decided a good way to add $500,000 to the state budget was to rob it from the annual allocation that South Dakota Public Broadcasting was expecting.

The cut has sent the statewide broadcasting organization into a tailspin, and has left a great number of South Dakotans puzzled, including Gov. Mike Rounds.

Introduced by Greenfield, the cut is being viewed by some as purely political � a slash by conservative legislators at an organization sometimes considered liberal.

But others say the cut was necessary and a matter of best managing taxpayers' dollars. The cut was taken from annual state budget figures that showed the agency with a projected surplus of $976,745 for the current fiscal year, Greenfield said.

SDPB Executive Director Julie Andersen said those numbers are misleading, as SDPB receives federal grants that are meant to cover two fiscal years at a time.

"What we do have in reserve is from federal money," she said.

About $250,000 of that reserve is earmarked to replace a broadcast tower near Beresford, Andersen said. The agency, which has spent the past several years upgrading equipment to digital technology, also is replacing its tower near Reliance. Those plans could now be in limbo.

One would expect members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to be skilled in the areas of accounting and mathematics.

We encourage our readers to ask their legislators, and these three men in particular, to "do the math."

Greenfield argues that SDPB can make up for the budget cut by holding fund drives.

"We have 18,000 members in the Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting, and our average donor gives $60, so do the math," Andersen said. "We can't do it, short of everyone in South Dakota signing up for membership during a pledge drive."

We have to agree with Yankton Democratic Sen. Gary Moore's reaction to Greenfield's line of thinking.

SDPB needs to be treated like other public entities, Moore said.

"You hear the argument that they have the ability to raise their own money. Why not make every department in state government have bake sales and make fund-raising phone calls?" he asked.

"Public broadcasting archives the legislative audio, and they haven't asked a dime to do this. They may come to us now and say that maybe they ought to be charging us $1.5 million. If government wants a service, (SDPB) may say you've got to pay for it," Moore added.

Fund raising accounts for 20 to 25 percent of SDPB's annual budget, Andersen said. The agency already counts about 10 percent of South Dakota households as members, which is twice the national average for state and local public broadcasting networks, she said.

Friends of SDPB, the agency's nonprofit fund-raising organization, raises money to pay for television shows such as Masterpiece Theatre and radio programs such as Morning Edition to be aired on SDPB.

While some lawmakers exchanged political barbs over the issue, others downplayed the issue as a nonpartisan one.

Meanwhile, SDPB listeners and viewers questioned the timing of the funding cut and wondered how it happened with little notice from the public.

Lawmakers say it's common for major cuts and changes to the general funding bill to appear seemingly at the last moment, as the bill is usually one of the last to be tackled.

The SDPB amendment came about at the final Joint Appropriations Committee hearing. In the interest of time, committee chairman Sen. Jerry Apa, R-Lead, closed the hearing to public testimony on the bill.

An amendment to the bill that would have restored the SDPB funding was tabled on the House floor.

Gov. Mike Rounds says it was wrong for a small group of legislators to cut $500,000 from the South Dakota Public Broadcasting budget without public discussion. But that didn't stop him from signing the state budget bill.

The governor also hasn't said whether he will try to get the money restored to SDPB's budget during the session's last day, March 20.

Although Rounds has been sympathetic to public broadcasting's plight this past month, we recommend our readers to also contact his office (605-773-3212) and give him some timely advice.

Do the math.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias, who loves to watch Nova, Nature, American Experience, The Antiques Roadshow, Frontline and other SDPB programs. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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