Under McDonnell plan, Va. taxpayers wouldn't fund state's public broadcasting

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 7:26 PM

RICHMOND - Gov. Robert F. McDonnell on Wednesday proposed ending state taxpayer funding of public broadcasting in Virginia by asking legislators to slash $4 million over the next two years as part of $35 million in budget cuts.

McDonnell (R) proposed cutting $2 million in fiscal 2012 and $2 million in fiscal 2013 - a recommendation that will curry favor with his conservative base that has long been opposed to sending tax dollars to public TV and radio stations.

His decision came as Republicans in Washington called for cutting federal funding to National Public Radio after news analyst Juan Williams was fired for comments he made on Fox News about Muslims.

"It doesn't make sense to have some stations with the competitive advantage of being funded by taxpayer dollars,'' McDonnell said. "The decision to eliminate state funding of public broadcasting is driven by the fundamental need to reestablish the proper role of government, and budget accordingly."

McDonnell made a similar proposal in the spring, but legislators restored the cuts to public TV and radio after broadcasters argued that most state aid to public broadcasting is actually used to teach children in public schools.

"We're always disappointed when the budget reflects a position that public broadcasting does not provide enough return to warrant funding,'' said Curtis Monk, president and chief executive of the Community Idea Stations, which has TV and radio stations in central Virginia. "We continue to believe that we favorably impact the quality of life equation throughout the Commonwealth and we'll stay focused on doing that."

The proposed cuts to public broadcasting will probably get a lot of attention during the 2011 legislative session. Democrats who control the state Senate will oppose the recommendation. McDonnell, in turn, will be able to use it as a bargaining chip as he looks to get other bills and budget proposals passed.

"Public television and radio provide a needed and important service for the people of the Commonwealth,'' Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) said. "To subject them to cuts of that nature and ultimately try to phase out funding is shortsighted."

McDonnell announced his first series of $191 million in budget cuts and savings Wednesday as he begins to prepare for the 2011 legislative session, which starts Jan. 12. He also proposed saving money by, among other things: eliminating four vacant positions in the Department of Forestry ($420,000); continuing agency-wide restrictions in the Department of Health on discretionary spending, travel and hiring ($1.4 million); expanding Medicaid managed-care programs ($3.5 million); and administrative savings at the Department of Social Services ($1 million).

McDonnell will announce on Friday a complete list of all his amendments to the two-year budget. That announcement will include cuts to help offset additional spending that he has proposed, including $50 million for economic development, $50 million for higher education and $150 million for transportation.

Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

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