TOPEKA — Supporters of public broadcasting are concerned this could be the year that state funding for public radio and broadcast stations ends in Kansas.
Gov. Sam Brownback's budget recommendation for the next fiscal year includes $600,000 for public broadcasting, down from $3.8 million in 2008. But some lawmakers consider public broadcasting a target for further cuts at a time when the state budget is stretched to cover such things as public schools and social services, The Kansas City Star reported.
A House committee voted earlier this year to drop the $600,000 subsidy but a Senate budget committee agreed with Brownback and allocated the subsidy for the coming year. Lawmakers returned to work Wednesday for a wrap-up session.
"I'm worried about it," said Rep. Don Hineman, a western Kansas Republican who supports funding for public broadcasting.
Other lawmakers are not convinced state funds should go to public stations.
"I don't care if PBS exists," said Rep. Virgil Peck, a Tyro Republican. "I'm just not in favor of taxpayer dollars going to fund something that can do its own fundraising and competes against private industry."
Public broadcasters say they have already cut staff, trimmed educational outreach efforts and are using cheaper programming, and they are working to increase private funding. A drop in public funding would require even more changes.
"We'll have a lot of hard decisions to make," said Deb Oyler, executive director of High Plains Public Radio, which serves part western Kansas. "We'll have to look at every single aspect of the station."
The state provides 1 percent of funding for public stations in Kansas City and Lawrence. At High Plains Public Radio in Garden City, state funding of about $89,000 is about 9 percent of that station's $1 million budget. At Smoky Hills Public Television in Bunker Hill, about $209,000 — or about 12 percent — of its $1.7 million budget comes from state grants.
Some lawmakers think public broadcasting isn't as needed today as it was before cable TV, satellite radio and the Internet.
"It used to be when I was a kid that you could drive through western Kansas and you couldn't get anything. There wasn't an AM station or anything," said Rep. Jim Howell, a Derby Republican. "Those days are so far gone."
Public broadcasting executives think stations will stay on the air if state funding disappears but quality will suffer.
"Will it all go away? Probably not," said Janet Campbell, station manager for Kansas Public Radio. "Will it be as reliable and strong? No."