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House committee slashes money for public television

Provision says no money OK'd by Legislature can be used to build capitol

Posted: Friday, April 01, 2005

The House Finance Committee on Thursday stripped public television of more than a third of its state funding for next year.

The committee, which wrapped up work on the state's proposed operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, also wrote in the provision that no money appropriated by the Legislature can be used to build a new capitol in Juneau.

Finance Co-chairman Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said he planned to move the operating budget for fiscal year 2006 out of his committee Friday. The committee considered nearly 50 amendments to the budget on Wednesday and Thursday.

The operating budget must be approved by the full House, then go through the Senate Finance Committee and the full Senate, with differences likely to be worked out by a conference committee from both chambers.

An amendment to the budget by Rep. Jim Holm, R-Fairbanks, cut $254,300 from Department of Administration's budget intended for public television, leaving $500,000 for next year.

Holm earlier this session had tried to cut $724,000 from public television and radio broadcasting, saying then that public broadcasters were advancing their own political agendas using state money.

On Thursday, Holm said public television should be supported by its members and not be in competition with private broadcasters. With private contributions and federal funds, public television wants state money more than it needs it, Holm said.

"I believe public television should wean itself off of state funds eventually," he said.

Bill Legere, general manager for KTOO-FM and TV in Juneau, said the state funds are seed money used to keep the lights on and the doors open. The state has appropriated $750,000 for public television for the past five years, following cuts in the 1990s, he said.

Even with a rise in private contributions, public television in Alaska is now funded at the same level as it was in 1994, he said. Another drop in state money would lead to less coming in from federal grants, he said.

Holm's amendment passed 6-5.

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, submitted an amendment that said no money appropriated in the budget or any other bill by this or past Legislatures could be used toward the cost of constructing a new capitol in Juneau.

Stoltze said he was concerned about activities coming from the governor's office on building a new capitol. He did not specify what activities.

"We all know that entities outside the legislative branch, the appropriating branch, are able to initiate major projects without legislative approval," Stoltze said.

"Any decision about (a capitol) either should be through the appropriate body of the Legislature or through the citizens expressing their opinions through an initiative, and it shouldn't be by some type of administrative action," he said.

Afterward, Stoltze said he knew of no specific plans by Gov. Frank Murkowski's office to use money appropriated by the Legislature to build a capitol.

"Just the history of the guy that things can happen. We have a strong executive," Stoltze said.

Becky Hultberg, spokeswoman for Gov. Frank Murkowski, said there is no money proposed in the governor's budget for a capitol.

"We'd need some clarity on what Rep. Stoltze was referring to," Hultberg said.

There was no debate on the amendment, which was rejected the first time 6-5. After a break, the committee took it up again and passed it without comment 7-4.

Stoltze said that during the break he made a pitch to committee members who had not understood the intent of the amendment.

"It wasn't a hard sell or anything," he said.



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