A budget bill passed by the finance committee of the West Virginia Senate Monday calls for eliminating state funding for the state’s public broadcasting network.
“We understand the state’s need to save money, and we are willing to do our part, but if this bill becomes law, West Virginia public broadcasting will be forced to shut down and will become the only state in the country to lose its public broadcasting system,” wrote Susan Hogan, chair of fundraising organization Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, in a statement on the station’s Facebook page.
Hogan told Current the bill’s passage surprised her. Some senators had made positive comments in conversations with WVPB representatives, she said, “and then to have a zero budget is kind of frustrating.”
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice zeroed out funding for WVPB in his initial budget proposal but restored it last month to its current level of $4.6 million. Justice said the funding would give WVPB time to transfer from state control to becoming a licensee of West Virginia University.
West Virginia’s House of Delegates has proposed reducing WVPB’s current funding by $1 million.
WVPB could handle a $1 million cut but would be challenged to absorb a bigger reduction, Hogan said.
The network received a show of support from U.S. Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), who in a letter to West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael said, “Rather than imposing an immediate drastic cut, the Governor and the Legislature ought to give WVPB the opportunity to transition towards a different funding model.”
Hogan said she hopes the Senate will eventually choose to fund WVPB, but “we cannot comfortably estimate what it will be at this time, so we have to be vigilant and proactive and ask the people who support us to help us one more time.”
The Friends group has started a campaign to urge supporters to contact legislators. A petition it started after the governor’s proposed budget cuts calls on the governor and House and Senate leadership to support WVPB has more than 2,700 signatures.
The legislature’s session ends Saturday but could be extended if lawmakers need more time to finalize a spending plan.