Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recent round of state budget vetoes may create a harsh reality for Kodiak’s public radio station, KMXT.
The governor’s vetoes to House Bill 2001 included a cut of $2 million for public radio broadcasting, reducing the state’s support for public broadcasting to zero.
“We all depend on the public radio station here in Kodiak,” said Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) in response to the funding cut.
KMXT will lose $77,000 in state funding, according to General Manager Mike Wall.
Wall said state funding is critical for the station to meet the threshold necessary to receive federal funding. KMXT’s funding also comes from membership, underwriting, special events, and borough and city grants.
To qualify for federal funding, KMXT will have to raise the amount lost. The station will now have to increase its membership and hope for more donations from community members, Wall said.
“We’re scrambling,” Wall said. “But we’re committed to doing exactly what we’ve done until now.”
In recent years, state funding has unlocked annual federal grants of $120,000 for KMXT, amounting to a significant portion of the station’s $500,000 annual operating budget. The station will have until June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, to reach the federal funding threshold.
While Wall is hopeful for more donations, he noted that Dunleavy’s cuts have thinned funding for numerous programs in Kodiak.
“Everybody is looking for money,” he said, adding that the extent of state budget cuts may mean that there isn’t enough generosity to go around.
Wall said medium-sized stations such as KMXT will be more affected by the budget cuts than smaller and larger stations. Smaller stations have access to more generous grant funding, while larger stations can benefit from larger memberships and more underwriting.
KMXT has already seen a trickle of individuals who have contributed as a result of the funding cuts.
“Our challenge is to get beyond the 10% of the population who contribute to us, to try to get more people to become members,” Wall said. “We’ve had kids come in with bags of quarters. We’ve had people come in with $500. Membership is what you think the service is worth.”
In recent years, the radio station has suffered funding cuts that have led to staff reductions. Once boasting a staff of 12 people, KMXT now has a staff of five.
“If people can’t contribute money, they can come in and volunteer,” Wall said. “The community has supported us for as long as we’ve been on the air.”
The Legislature will have the opportunity to override the governor’s vetoes at an upcoming special session, but Wall isn’t optimistic.
“It doesn’t matter how many people go and testify,” he said. “Every time they have a hearing about public broadcasting, the Legislature says ‘we need to support this.’ But Dunleavy does whatever he wants to do. We could get everybody in the state to testify, and he still doesn’t find it valuable.”
Wall also expressed concern over the politicization of public broadcasting.
“When they suck us into a political arena, it’s a place we don’t want to be. We want to appear to be fair and unbiased,” he said. “Now they threaten our existence. That specter of not being being impartial makes things more difficult.”
Despite the loss of state funding, Wall assured that KMXT isn’t going away.
“Alaska Public Radio is the jewel of public radio in the country,” he said. “For them not to recognize that it’s a valuable thing is just ridiculous.”
KEA LOSES FUNDS
Among the governor’s cuts was $943,000 in debt reimbursement for the Kodiak Electric Association.
According to KEA President and CEO Darron Scott, that funding was meant to cover the costs for the construction of the Nyman Powerplant, which was completed in 1999. In total, KEA received $6 million in principal funding from the state, set to be paid in yearly installments. This year’s installment was meant to be the last.
Nyman, a combined cycle cogeneration plant, is used as a backup for KEA’s other power plants, which rely on renewable energy, according to Scott. The plant is owned by KEA but sits on land owned by the Coast Guard.
“This was a very tight year for us,” Scott said. “This now makes a tight year that much tighter.”
Scott added that the loss of the funds will make balancing the budget more challenging. If any other unexpected costs come up, such as damage to power lines, KEA will become vulnerable.
“We are a not-for-profit, so everything does roll down to the customers,” he said, noting he does not anticipate a rate increase in the foreseeable future.
KEA is in the midst of completing the Upper Basin Diversion Project at the Terror Lake Hydroelectric facilities. The project is expected to be completed next summer.
KEA’s annual budget is just shy of $25 million, making the governor’s cut a 4% loss. Scott said that KEA is still working on various contingency plans and will know more in the coming months.