Pawlenty's cuts would trim money for public television, radio

Reduced funding for public radio and public television -- including the local affiliate PBS Eight -- are among Minnesota budget cuts suggested by Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Monday.

WDSE studio
Ted Pellman produces an episode of "Coffeehouse," a show about the local music scene, which aired on WDSE-TV in 2003.

Reduced funding for public radio and public television -- including the local affiliate PBS Eight -- are among Minnesota budget cuts suggested by Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Monday.

WDSE-TV station manager Al Harmon said Friday that if the governor's plan is approved, it would mean staff cuts at the station, as well as the end to some local programming. The proposal, a

65-page document that can be found on the Minnesota Management and Budget Web site -- calls for cutting several public broadcasting grants. That includes $1.2 million for public TV grants, another $200,000 for equipment, and on the radio side $287,000 in service grants, $100,000 in equipment grants and another $250,000 of equipment grants specifically for Minnesota Public Radio.

Duluth's KUMD 103.3 FM, an independent public radio station, also would be subject to those cuts

While the cutbacks may be a drop in the bucket for public radio giant MPR -- one of the nation's largest public broadcasting entities -- Harmon said the state grants make up about 10 percent of WDSE's operating budget and 20 percent of the salaries for the station's 30 employees.


"Where it will hurt us most is our ability to do public affairs programming -- our ability to create things like candidate forums and debates for the upcoming election," Harmon said. "Those are the sort of things that just won't happen."

Instead of producing local content like "Great Gardening," and "Doctors On Call," Harmon said blocks would be filled with repeats of previously aired content. There probably would be cuts to the staff, he said, as well as an end to community outreach programs like the Young Writers and Illustrators contest.

Public television stations also would lose federal support of matching money.

"The historic drop in the economy has caused an historic drop in state revenues," Pawlenty said in a news release announcing the proposed cuts that include state government aid to local government, state health and human services, enhanced federal Medicaid funding for states, reductions to higher education institutions, and reductions in state agencies and other program. "Government has to live within its means by setting priorities and tightening its belt just like everyone else. While this budget maintains funding for priority areas, it contains dramatic spending reductions in many programs."

Ralph Doty, a former commercial radio broadcaster and former WDSE board member, said that public radio and public television have become the lone source for unbiased journalism, and that the cuts come at a time when there is a dearth of local news on commercial radio stations.

"To me, even on cable, there is no real objective outlet," he said. "That is the beauty of public TV and public radio. They have be totally objective, totally middle of the road because they are getting public money. Commercial stations don't have that motivation."

Doty said that cuts to public TV and radio aren't surprising, and that he wouldn't be surprised to see an eventual end to any public funding.

"Typically, when you have to cut the budget, you have to cut what some people consider fluff," he said. "Some people consider that fluff, but I don't."

Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
What To Read Next
Get Local