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State funding cuts a setback for public stations

February 19, 2010

Indiana’s public television and radio stations are again facing reductions in staff and programming following a decision by Gov. Mitch Daniels to make major cuts in state funding for the second year in a row.

Because of Indiana’s budget crisis, the state’s eight public television and radio stations, including WFYI in Indianapolis, will not receive their final two installments of public funding for fiscal 2010. That's about $1.6 million, or half of the expected $3.2 million annual total.

State revenue has fallen below projections for several months. It plunged $142 million below expectations in January, prompting Daniels to make numerous cuts, including halting funding to public broadcasters for the remaining six months of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"The state's revenues have continued to decline and more spending reductions are being made across state government," the governor's spokeswoman, Jane Jankowski, said in an e-mail. "All areas of state government have been impacted, and regrettably, that includes public broadcasting.

Jankowski said funding could be restored if revenues begin to rebound.

At least one public broadcaster, WNIT in Elkhart, already has reacted by cutting staff. The station let go eight employees on Tuesday, due to its $200,000 loss in state appropriations.

Other stations already had cut staff or programming and were anticipating less money after experiencing a 33-percent cut in state funds last year. The governor halted nearly $1.2 million in funding in the second half of fiscal 2009.

WFYI, a TV and radio broadcaster, underwent a radical restructuring in January 2009 by eliminating 10 positions, or 12 percent of the staff, and implementing a 5-percent cut in pay for management.

The station also discontinued contributions to a staff retirement program, adjusted its health care benefits and suspended some local programming, such as the "Across Indiana" program.

“That helps us better manage the situation now,” WFYI President and CEO Lloyd Wright said. “But the impact is felt by a staff that is spread very thin.”

All told, WFYI sliced its annual budget by $700,000 after it received $180,000 in state funding cuts last year. The station lost another $238,000 in fiscal 2010, for a total $418,000 the past two years. WFYI’s annual budget is about $9.2 million, of which state funding had accounted for about 5 percent.

In addition, corporate contributions are down. To compensate, WFYI hopes to increase revenue in other areas. Providing more studio services, particularly video production for corporations, is among the areas it is exploring.

Rent the station collects in its new building also should help. WFYI moved into the former Indiana Energy headquarters at 1630 N. Meridian St. in May 2008. The broadcaster bought the building for $8.5 million and spent another $11.6 million renovating the first two floors and equipping its radio and television stations. It’s renting out the third and fourth floors.

WFYI receives much of its funding from individual contributions, which account for about 35 percent of its budget. Corporate donations total about 28 percent, followed by federal funding at 13 percent and state funding at 5 percent. Non-broadcast revenue makes up another 5 percent of the budget, with the remainder coming from private and public grants.

“We hope these [state] cuts are temporary,” Wright said, “but they do hurt.”

WIPB in Muncie is feeling the pain as well. But like WFYI, it began paring staff last year to endure the first round of state cuts. The broadcaster cut five positions in the first half of 2009.

Anticipating similar funding cuts from the state this year, it did not even include the state appropriation in its 2010 budget. The $85,000 WIPB received, or half of the $170,000 that it was due, was placed in a savings account.

“Obviously, it’s a big hit, but we do not expect any further layoffs,” WIPB General Manger Alice Cheney said. “We just continue to explore other revenue streams.”
 
Indiana is not the only state to target public broadcasting funds to lessen the sting of the recession. More than 20 states have reduced funding or are considering it, said Larry Sidman, president of the Association of Public Television Stations in Arlington, Va.

But Indiana’s cuts seem to be among the worst, he said.

“They are deeper and more severe than most of the states,” Sidman said. “This 50-percent hit all at once is going to have a very harmful impact.”
 

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