Earlier this month, the Haines Borough Assembly adopted a resolution supporting public broadcasting. Public radio stations statewide are facing a 27-percent reduction, but the threat of even deeper cuts surfaced this week in Juneau. In the interest of full disclosure, Lynn Canal Broadcasting, Inc. is a recipient of a portion of the funding at issue in this story.
“I’ve been a volunteer at KHNS for 30 years and it is an integral part of our community,” said Haines’ Thom Ely, who spoke out at a recent borough assembly meeting. “I think we should do everything in our power to ask the legislature to fully fund public broadcasting. It’s an important resource, a source of news, a source of emergency information, and I really feel that the assembly should be behind asking the legislature to give us better funding for this year.”
Skagway’s Tekla Helgason is a current KHNS board member. She addressed the Skagway Borough Assembly earlier this month asking for the municipality’s support.
“This is a valuable and important part, not just of our community, for quality of life,” she said. “It’s essential. This is like having roads, this is like having post, this is something that’s very important for our community.”
The Dept. of Administration finance subcommittee, chaired by Wasilla Republican Rep. Lynn Gattis, met on Tuesday to close out its budget and pass recommendations on to the House Finance Committee. The subcommittee proposed cutting 100 percent of state operating grant funds for public broadcasting.
At a meeting last week, prior to the closeout, Gattis said she was raised on public radio. But, she said, the difference between then and now is the abundance of technology readily available.
“We all have recognized, whether it’s newspaper or other … we utilize technology differently than we did in the ‘80s … I don’t think for anybody sitting at the table, as we march forward, whether it’s your budget or other folks budgets, I don’t think it’s easy for anybody,” Gattis said.
Gov. Bill Walker, in his proposed budget, suggested a $750,000 cut, or 27 percent, to public stations. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting matches state funds to public radio and TV stations in Alaska. A large reduction in state funding would result in several stations losing out on federal support, according to Alaska Public Broadcasting.
KHNS general manger Kay Clements said she’s having trouble wrapping her mind about the possibility of losing both sources. The station celebrated 35 years just a few months ago.
“This is pretty serious,” Clements said. “We’ve been advised to work with a 27 percent cut as a baseline for our budget this year and we don’t know where it’s going to go from there.”
Last year, stations shared a 23-percent reduction in funding – that meant $30,000 less from the state for KHNS.
“I think that the government has cried wolf so often, forcing us to cry wolf a little bit, that people have a hard time accepting that it’s a possibility,” Clements said. “But since it happened last year, I think the perception is starting to sink in, that we really are losing money.”
At the Haines assembly meeting on Feb. 9, assembly member George Campbell said he was concerned that asking for more support from the Legislature for public broadcasting could potentially take away funding for borough priorities.
“The question I have is exactly how much of our political clout do we want to put on side things and how much do we want to put on what our priorities are?”
Assembly member Diana Lapham responded, saying that she doesn’t believe one supersedes the other.
“I do support KHNS,” she said. “They are there not only for entertainment and news value, they are there in the event of an emergency situation.”
The motion to adopt the resolution passed unanimously. Assemblyman Ron Jackson then made a motion that the interim manager contact Haines borough lobbyist Bill Thomas to advocate for fewer cuts in Juneau. That also passed unanimously.
This week, the Chilkat Indian Village Council also unanimously passed a resolution in support of asking the Legislature to consider less severe cuts to public broadcasting.
Skagway Borough Clerk Emily Deach said the resolution has not yet made it onto the assembly agenda in Skagway.
Among the nearly 30 public radio stations in Alaska are about 60 signal translators, including Skagway. Together with the main stations, public radio reaches 95 percent of all Alaskans.