By Phil Kabler, The Charleston Gazette-Mail
Published March 8, 2017
Anticipating that its state funding will be cut, if not eliminated entirely, West Virginia Public Broadcasting plans to lay off 15 employees by the end of the month, Executive Director Scott Finn told the House Finance Committee on Wednesday.
“We know something is coming, and we have to get ahead of it,” Finn said.
He said afterward that the Educational Broadcasting Authority has a special meeting set for March 15 to approve the elimination of 20 of WVPB’s 70.5 budgeted full-time positions. EBA members discussed the cuts behind closed doors on March 1, but did not take action on them.
Finn said five of the 20 positions are already vacant, and he hopes the 15 layoffs can be achieved through voluntary separations.
He did not specify what units will be cut, except to say the education staff will be cut from two positions to one.
Public Broadcasting viewers and listeners will notice the effects of downsizing in technical staff, Finn told lawmakers.
“There will be more outages,” he said, referring to the 27 broadcast transmission towers and translators that have to be maintained to get television and radio signals to more than 90 percent of the state’s population.
Finn also told the committee, “Frankly, one of the things that doesn’t pay for itself is this, the government programming.”
Public Broadcasting’s $4.6 million state appropriation —about 45 percent of its total annual operating budget —would be eliminated under Gov. Jim Justice’s 2017-18 budget plan, which proposes about $26.6 million in spending cuts and about $355 million in tax increases to help close a nearly $500 million shortfall in the 2017-18 state budget.
The Governor’s Office on Wednesday provided audio from Justice’s appearance on the Howard Monroe radio program, on which he said the cuts could be avoided with the more than $200 million a year in payroll taxes that he said would result from creation of 48,000 jobs through his $2.8 billion highways construction proposal.
“To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to do away with Public Broadcasting,” Justice said. “I’d like to pull [the cuts] right back off the table right now.”
Legislative leaders have said they will produce an alternate budget plan that closes the funding deficit largely or entirely through budget cuts.
Asked when that budget proposal will be unveiled, Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, told the Senate on Wednesday, “I’m not a prophet. I can’t totally predict the future.”
The Senate and House finance committees have broken into subcommittees, with each analyzing portions of the budget for potential spending cuts.
Also Wednesday, state Education and the Arts Secretary Gayle Manchin told the House Finance Committee that she is working to streamline the department, whose six divisions include Public Broadcasting.
“In my first week, I restructured the central office, downsizing the number of employees,” Manchin said. In January. she fired four central office employees, about one-third of the staff.
Also, Manchin said she is in the process of moving her offices, located in the Building 5 office tower, and offices of the Center for Professional Development, currently located on Hale Street in downtown Charleston, into the Culture Center, to save rental costs. Likewise, she said, Volunteer West Virginia has moved from offices on Central Avenue, on the city’s West Side, to the Public Broadcasting headquarters on Capitol Street.
Manchin said those changes will reduce personnel costs by more than $266,000 and rental costs by more than $172,000.