I don't know about you, but I'm getting weary of the South Dakota legislative process.
Specifically, I'm getting a bit tired of state lawmakers clearly defying the wishes of most of the citizenry.
The latest word from Pierre is that South Dakota Public Broadcasting is being targeted. Again.
I believe this happened last year, too. A quick perusal of my files has been unable to confirm that. But I seem to remember something similar happening last year. Or the year before.
I must admit I didn't really worry about it too much. The proposed cut never became reality. I just figured lawmakers learned the error of their ways after the backlash they caused the last time they threatened public broadcasting.
I suppose since we're in business in Vermillion, where the South Dakota Public Television studios are located, some readers may think we may be, perhaps, a little oversensitive about this topic.
I've personally gotten to know people associated with SDPB pretty well. They're active in the community. And I don't know anyone who doesn't respect and appreciate the professional effort they devote to their jobs.
Except for, I guess, some lawmakers.
According to a letter sent this week to the Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting by Julie Andersen, executive director of SDPB, it appears in the final days of the legislative session that public broadcasting in South Dakota is under threat of a major funding cut, perhaps as much as $500,000 – the equivalent to about 12 percent of the funding it receives from the state.
Perhaps we have legislators that don't like to watch themselves on "Statehouse" every night while they are in session. They don't like the relevant, local discussions provided on such SDPB programs as "Dakota Digest."
Maybe they don't like to listen to Garrison Keillor. Or Charlie Rose. Maybe "Frontline" and "Clifford The Big Red Dog" are just a little too deep for them. Maybe they prefer the bias of Fox News to the straight-shooting "PBS Newshour."
Maybe they've concluded that Ken Burns' just doesn't know anything about filmmaking after watching his documentary, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."
Andersen notes that the state provides funding for SDPB's statewide broadcast transmission system and infrastructure which is used to broadcast television and radio programming and web stream content online. State funds pay the electric bills, purchases and maintains broadcast equipment, pays salaries of SDPB employees and other costs. Money donated to SDPB, including money pledged during membership drives, is used to pay for programs and program-related services.
Hopefully, by the time you read this, public backlash will have been so great that this funding cut will be averted. We know times are tight; that lawmakers need to scramble to dig up revenue for everything from education to highways.
But, in the scheme of things, $500,000 is a tiny little ding to the state's budget. Especially, when we keep in mind that we're a state that likes to sit on a boatload of cash – a rainy day fund, so to speak – and we still sit on it, even when it seems to be pouring outside.
Among the various revenue reports available to the public are the state reserve trust funds from 2001 through 2009. These reserves are a mish-mash of accounts, created either by the Legislature, or by us through statewide elections.
There's a property tax reduction fund, a health care trust fund, an education enhancement trust fund, a Dakota cement trust fund, and a budget reserve fund.
Total up all of these rainy day funds, and you come up with a fairly substantial amount of money. The total hit an all-time high in FY 2007, when it reached $952,560,942.
As of last September, the total of all of these reserve funds was just under $760,000,000.
We know the state runs a pretty tight ship. And that the governor had his eyes on these various reserve funds to help us all squeak by yet another year with a balanced budget.
But with reserve fund totals that are getting somewhat close to hitting a billion dollars, we have to wonder why a $500,000 cut in SDPB is even being considered.
I find myself shaking my head at the notion of another threatened cut in the SDPB budget, especially since earlier in the session, legislation that would have saved the state a considerable amount of money by cutting state lawmakers' pay from $6,000 to $4,200 annually for the next two budget years was quickly killed. That measure alone would have created a savings of about $380,000.
A second measure that would have eliminated out-of-state travel for lawmakers was also defeated in committee. That measure would have saved about $400,000 of state funds over two years.
Those two measures died because their opponents said South Dakota lawmakers need to attend national meetings to help influence federal policies.
And, the opponents noted, a cut in legislative pay would prevent many people from running for the Legislature because they could not afford to be away from their jobs during the legislative session.
It would be nice if lawmakers who are so worried about their annual salaries and travel costs would show the same type of concern to their constituents who 1) enjoy watching public television and listening to public radio, and 2) who don't mind the fact that part of the money they pay in state taxes every year helps fund South Dakota Public Broadcasting.