Sen. Dawn Hill says Maine Public Broadcasting Cuts Remain Likely

May 25, 2011


May 25, 2011 2:00 AM

AUGUSTA, Maine � State Sen. Dawn Hill of York, Democratic leader of the Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday that Republican committee members are ready to eliminate state funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

"They are standing firm in defunding" MPBN, she said. "The funding is highly in jeopardy."

That news comes a week after a public hearing on the issue that spurred a full house of supporters to attend Tuesday's committee hearing.

Hill and other legislators from southern Maine said no one issue has engendered more constituent e-mail than this, and all but a handful were in support of continued state funding.

Gov. Paul LePage has proposed, over the next biennium, diverting to other programs the $4 million in state funding for the public broadcast system. That cut is almost 20 percent of MPBN's operating costs.

On May 16, the Appropriations Committee held a hearing on the matter, at which nearly 30 people from among an overflow crowd testified in opposition to LePage's plan. Since then, when the committee has discussed the matter, Hill said consensus among Republican members is to hang tough on the cut.

"They say MPBN should raise money like any other broadcaster," Hill said. "I get the sense they're doing what pleases him (LePage). What does he want?"

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Hill said she's received hundreds of e-mails from all over the state in support of the funding.

"In my book, it's educational, it's continuing education," she said. "In a big, rural state where people are miles away from urban centers, MPBN is crucial," she said, adding the network also acts as the state's emergency broadcasting system.

Hill is not the only one being inundated with e-mails. State Rep. Windol Weaver, R-York, said he's received more than 30, and all but one writer does not want the funding cut. He said he hopes that the Appropriations Committee will take a half-way approach and fund $2 million over the biennium instead of cutting it altogether.

He said he thinks that's fair. "We've cut funding for the elderly, we've cut state workers, we've hurt a lot of people. Where are we going to find that money?" he asked. "Why should they be protected?"

That's certainly the feeling of Jason Savage, director of People Before Politics, recently formed by former LePage campaign workers. He said his organization is "focused on helping the average Maine person be heard in Augusta."

The group has signed up "hundreds and hundreds" of volunteers who write e-mails on specific issues when they receive action alerts from People Before Politics, he said.

MPBN funding is one of those issues. Hill said she received 600 e-mails from the people address.

Savage said he feels MPBN should go out and get advertising just like any radio station. According to MPBN, money from the state can't by law be used for programming or salaries, but only for transmission stations and transmitters.

Attempts to reach MPBN President Jim Dowe by deadline were unsuccessful.

State Rep. Devin Beliveau, D-Kittery, said he's received about 50 e-mails from his constituents on this issue, all in favor of continued funding.

"We need an educated citizenry for democracy to work," he said, and MPBN provides that. "This one is very easy for me."

A similar bill in the New Hampshire Legislature was tabled by the state Senate on March 31, and there has been no further action on the bill.

The Senate Finance Committee recommended against passing the bill, in part because the station does not received funding directly from the state. NHPTV is funded and overseen by the University System of New Hampshire, which receives money from the state.