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Minnesota Public Radio’s state funding: Where does it stand?

Although public media’s battle for taxpayer support has been fiercer at the federal level, Minnesota Public Radio is in the middle of a half-million-dollar scrum at the Republican-controlled Minnesota legislature. How much is the GOP trying to whack?

So far, the House is much kinder than the Senate, which had zeroed out MPR’s funding though relented in recent days for reasons I’ll soon explain.

In fiscal years 2012 and ’13, MPR is scheduled to get $476,000 from the state’s general fund. Gov. Dayton’s budget contains exactly that amount. The House would slash 15 percent — a $72,000 cut. The Senate would slash 68 percent, or $322,000.

This particular pot of state money goes for the unsexy stuff — capital equipment such as transmitters in MPR’s far-flung and frequently uneconomical statewide network, not the bitter, nakedly partisan propoganda Cathy Wurzer and Kerri Miller spew. (Kidding! Kidding!)

The Senate, led by former private-sector broadcast veteran Mike Parry of Waseca, was prepared to fully whack MPR, but pulled back after learning the feds had mandated an upgrade of the Emergency Alert System, which MPR distributes via 40 signals to every other radio station in the state. “We were able to convince them this was an unfunded federal mandate,” says Jeff Nelson, MPR’s chief lobbyist.

As they have in the past, MPR officials argue the general fund appropriation goes to maintaining equipment outside the Twin Cities and expanding the network to places where the population can’t support tower-building, such as Roseau. Although House State Government Finance Chair Morrie Lanning of Moorhead wasn’t available for comment, the House seems to have taken a more generous view of MPR’s capital needs.

Given that the governor and Senate both place MPR over the $400,000 mark, how does Parry expect the Senate’s $154,000 offer to survive?

I don’t know if there are any house members in the broadcasting world,” Parry says. “We just have to have a long discussion. For the most part MPR stands strong and we hope they understand the state of the budget. They have good fundraising arms.”

By the way, Parry says he has received only one comment on the MPR cut, from an anguished citizen in Bemidji whom he planned to call back. Clearly, MPR has not set its network of fans upon this particular legislator.

Three other important data points:

MPR’s general-fund appropriation isn’t its biggest at the Capitol; the station reaps much more from the state Legacy Fund’s arts and cultural pot. The three-eighths-cent sales tax devotes 19.75 percent of its receipts to the arts; MPR has pulled down $2.65 million for the 2010-11 biennium. While outdoors groups are churning over legislative plans to redirect some spending, Nelson says he hasn’t heard anything similar on the cultural front yet. 

Also, public broadcasters at the state’s smaller radio stations, in the AMPERS network, have been largely spared from state budget cuts. Dayton and the House hold the $750,000 ’12-’13 program harmless, while the Senate proposes a 5 percent cut. Parry says fellow Republicans were convinced that AMPERS stations, many on college campuses, depended more on state support.

Public TV — which actually has a lot more to lose if the feds cut the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — would swallow a 10 percent matching-grant cut according to the House, 20 percent in the Senate and none from the governor. Dayton and the House would not cut TV’s equipment grant, while the Senate would again slice 20 percent. Overall, TV gets $2.2 million in matching grants and $380,000 in equipment subsidies.

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