Veto by Alaska’s governor threatens funding for state pubcasters

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State funding to public broadcasters in Alaska is at risk after Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed an appropriation approved by the state legislature. 

Lawmakers passed level funding for public broadcasters in their FY2020 budget, but Gov. Dunleavy vetoed the full amount of $2,716,600. More than $2 million would have gone to public radio stations, with the rest for public TV and the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission, which oversees state funding. 

Dunleavy announced Friday that he zeroed out the funding as part of a line-item veto of about $400 million from various programs, part of an effort to reduce the state’s deficit.

“With access to grants, federal funding, or other innovative sources of funding, we believe the Alaska Public Broadcasting, Inc. will continue to provide services to Alaskans and will prioritize its services so it reaches the Alaskan communities that most need news and information,” according to a press briefing from the governor’s office about the cuts.

Legislators will meet in a special session beginning July 8 to vote to override or sustain the veto. Overriding the veto would require a vote from three-quarters of the legislature’s 60 members. 

Mollie Kabler, executive director of Alaska Public Broadcasting Inc., said she believes it is “unlikely” that the legislature will override the veto. Alaska Public Broadcasting Inc. provides support for the state’s public media organizations.

The Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission asked stations last month about the effects of zeroing out state funding, according to Kabler. The impact would range from “devastating” small and medium-sized stations to causing single-digit losses as a percentage of total revenue at larger stations, Kabler told Current.

Stations will likely cut back on programming and could move forward with layoffs if lawmakers uphold the veto, Kabler said. But she said she would not expect any stations to go off the air the first year after losing state funding. Some stations, however, “are concerned about the year after that,” she said.

Becky Meiers, GM at KCAW in Sitka, said in a post on the station’s website that KCAW would lose about 18% of its budget if the cut is finalized. The station’s licensee does have a “contingency budget that will keep the station in operation,” according to the post.

Even if the cuts go through, Alaska Public Broadcasting Inc. will continue to provide services to stations, including an engineering service for small stations, Kabler said. But stations would have to pay more for the service.

Gov. Dunleavy proposed eliminating state funding to public broadcasters in his draft budget earlier this year.

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