By ERIN BECK
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The proposed budget Gov. Jim Justice unveiled Wednesday would remove $4.6 million in state funding for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, a move agency officials said would be devastating.
The budget includes a cut of $4.6 million in funds for the Educational Broadcasting Authority, which is the governing body for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
In a phone interview, Susan Hogan, chairwoman of Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, said the organization wouldn’t have time to come up with alternative funding before the beginning of the new budget year, on July 1. Becoming a nonprofit would take years, she said.
“We don’t have a contingency plan, and you can’t do that in a couple months,” she said.
Hogan and Ted Armbrecht, chairman of WVPB, sent out a statement Wednesday evening on the potential impact of the proposed cut.
“We believe this would be unwise and irresponsible,” they said. “We understand the state needs to save money, but such a drastic and immediate cut threatens the very existence of our state’s PBS and NPR stations.”
Justice’s 2017-18 budget plan would close a nearly $500 million shortfall by raising $450 million in new taxes — the largest being a 0.2 percent gross receipts tax on businesses, to raise $214 million — and by imposing $26.6 million in cuts. The governor also presented an “alternative budget” that would consist solely of massive cuts if the Legislature doesn’t approve the former proposal.
WVPB receives about half its revenue from the state.
According to the governor’s proposed budget, in fiscal year 2016, about $4.7 million of WVPB’s budget came from general revenue, $256,000 came from federal sources and $3.96 million came from “other” sources. His proposed budget suggests providing no funding for WVPB from general revenue but that $9.1 million would be received in “other” revenue. It wasn’t clear where that extra money would come from. The Governor’s Office did not return a call Thursday afternoon seeking comment, and neither did spokesman Grant Herring.
The cut would result in the layoffs of up to 75 percent of the staff, according to WVPB’s statement.
“You couldn’t run an operation like that with a skeleton staff of 18 or less,” Hogan said. “It would also take out our matching capabilities dollar for dollar that we raise.”
The cut also would endanger PBS Kids programming, hurt more than 6,000 educators and homeschoolers who use WVPB videos and curricula, and end funding for “Mountain Stage,” according to the statement. The cut also would force many of the 27 towers in WVPB’s network to be turned off. First responders use 11 of those towers at no cost to the state, according to the statement.
Hogan noted “that the live feed for Governor Justice’s inauguration and his State of the State [address] was from West Virginia Public Broadcasting television.”
She also noted that WVPB has archived records of legislative sessions and has an “enormous” economic impact.
About $300,000 of the budget is spent on “Mountain Stage,” a two-hour live-performance radio program that airs on more than 180 public radio stations across America.
Hogan said “Mountain Stage” projects a “positive picture” of the state.
“Governor Justice talked about that beautifully last night,” she said. “What is our image? ‘Mountain Stage’ is one of our real positive, joyous images. That would absolutely be gone without question.”
Scott Finn, executive director of WVPB, directed questions to the Governor’s Office.
“We’ve been told to send all such requests about this to the Governor’s Office,” he said, “which is standing operating procedure now.”
See more from the Charleston Gazette-Mail