S.D. Public Broadcasting plans Pierre battle

S.D. Public Broadcasting plans Pierre battle
The closest to an actual battle that South Dakota Public Broadcasting experiences is when it airs documentaries from the past, from Ken Burns' Civil War to stories about the harrowing experiences that G.I.s of the greatest generation endured while fighting in Europe and in the Pacific during World War II.

Soon, however, Julie Andersen, South Dakota Public Broadcasting's executive director, will have a real fight on her hands.

Her mission: to rescue $500,000 that unceremoniously was plucked from SDPB's budget in the closing hours of the legislative session.

"Our plan, short term, is to fight back," she said. "We are going to be going for either a move by the legislative body to amend the budget and take our cut out, or a line item veto by the governor."

Later this month, the Legislature will reconvene for the final day of this year's session to tie up loose ends or attempt to breathe new life into legislation vetoed by Gov. Mike Rounds.

Andersen is hoping state lawmakers will listen to both her and their constituents as that final day approaches.

"We are calling on our friends and supporters to express their opinions, and share them with their legislators in the hopes of turning this around," she said.

The $500,000 cut came from the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee late Tuesday and passed the Senate and House as lawmakers finished up on Wednesday,Andersen said.

"I've been told by any number of legislators that they were as blind-sided by this as we were," she said. "I think you have a very small group of legislators who have a philosophical difference with us and are not necessarily following the hearts and minds and pleasure of their constituency."

Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, brought the funding cut to the Appropriation Committee on Tuesday night. Greenfield argued that the state has plenty of television and radio outlets and that the public-broadcasting system was set to have a budget cushion of about $970,000. Then, he proposed the cut, which the committee approved on a 12-6 vote.

"This came out of Sen. Greenfield's pocket. He surprised us all, and he had a good argument and a good amendment, so it got 12 out of 18," Sen. Bill Napoli, R-Rapid City said in a news report last week. "That's a strong vote."

Opponents of the cut tried unsuccessfully to restore the money before the final state budget bill was approved Wednesday. Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, one of the most outspoken opponents, called the cut "yet another example of extremism gone too far in the Legislature."

Adelstein was upset both by the cut and by the fact that it came so late in the budget process that there was no public comment or involvement by supporters of public broadcasting. A former Appropriations Committee member, he labeled Greenfield as "an ultra-conservative extremist" who helped organize the "last-minute ambush of public radio by extremists."

"It is a breach of trust and an abuse of power," Adelstein said.

Napoli was angered by those comments, which he said showed Adelstein didn't understand the amendment or the public-broadcasting budget.

"I think and foremost, there's a general feeling that public broadcasting should not be state supported � that we should only exist where we can raise the money to exist, and I think to a lesser degree, we (and several lawmakers) don't share the same viewpoint."

Andersen argues that since so much of South Dakota Public Broadcasting's content is non-political, it's hard to imagine how the television network can be upsetting to some legislators.

She ticked off a list of some of SDPB's most popular programs: Nova, Nature, American Experience, The Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Lawrence Welk, British comedies, and the network's local programming.

"None of that has a political slant of any sort, and our kids' programs don't, either," Andersen said. "When you actually get down to the percentage of programming that has a political or moral flavor to a degree that you can determine conservative or liberal in it, it's a small amount of content."

South Dakota Public Broadcasting, she said, does more than merely entertain.

"By far and away, what most people look to us for, what most people watch us for, is culture and arts and science and history and information," Andersen said.

Greenfield argued at the end of the legislative session that public broadcasting supporters could make up part or all of the $500,000 with increased donations or come back to the 2007 Legislature and make the case for more money.

That scenario, Andersen said is far from realistic.

"They have put us in a Catch-22 situation. If I expend what funds we have to eat up the cut, we are not going to be able to meet the federally mandated conversion to a digital signal," she said.

What's worse, the gutting of public broadcasting's budget hamstrings its ability to raise extra dollars.

"To the degree they charged us with raising the additional money ourselves, we are not going to stand any chance of raising additional revenue if you cut key services and programs that people give us money for in the first place," Andersen said.

The $500,000 is about 6 percent of the agency's $8.4 million annual budget, about $3.4 million of which has come from the state.

The proposed state budget cut would start July 1, which would trigger a loss of about $60,000 in federal funds, Andersen said. In turn, President Bush has proposed a 30 percent cut in federal funding for public broadcasting, which would take away another $450,000 annually for South Dakota, she said.

"We are looking at the possibility of $1 million in total cuts when the federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1," she said.

Andersen and her staff held an emergency meeting Friday.

"Our first strategy is to try to overturn this, and if that doesn't happen and we're forced to live without half a million dollars a year, we are going to reduce expenditures in building and engineering maintenance, and some of our more expensive local programming."

And, sadly, Andersen said the South Dakota Public Broadcasting will eventually be silenced in some parts of the state.

"The worst step that public broadcasting may have to make, Andersen said, "and this just breaks my heart, but we'll have to turn off our radio and TV transmitters at Faith, Lowrie and Long Valley. In many of these areas, we are the sole service, and I feel from my mission standpoint, it has been a big part of who and what we are to serve the under-served and to serve those who live in our most remote areas."

The remote nature of South Dakota is one reason the state's public broadcasting network has always been reliant on state funding.

"We've always had to use state funding to subsidize that service because there aren't enough people and businesses to self-support," Andersen said. "There again, it's a Catch-22. If you shave off money from other places and it impacts your ability to fund raise, then you can't raise the missing money. The horrible downside to that is you end up reducing service to a constituency in the state that probably needs it the most."

Andersen is hoping that battle lines have already been drawn, with South Dakota Public Broadcasting supporters sending e-mails and making phone calls to legislators who supported the network's budget cut.

"I will assume and hope that we will have a number of supporters in Pierre on that final day of the session," she said.

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