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Sanford urges subsidies for public broadcasting

ST. PAUL - If Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed budget shortfall solution is adopted, Lakeland Public Television's TV news operation could be gone, says a station official.

Lakeland General Manager Bill Sanford joined Bemidji Day at the Capitol lobbyists on Tuesday to tell legislators that state subsidies to public broadcasting are important and should not be cut. It's Sanford's third trip in just a few weeks.

"The governor is proposing eliminating all funding for public television next year and in subsequent years," Sanford said. "Basically, from now on."

It amounts to about $230,000 a year for Lakeland PTV, with about $200,000 unrestricted for operating costs, he said.

"If we were to lose $200,000, it would be pretty detrimental to the operation of Lakeland," he said. Lakeland News at 10 is the station's discretionary item, Sanford said.

"Our discretionary funds typically go to produce local programs."

Also on the block, he said, is Lakeland Kids channel. Lakeland does receive new funding under the Legacy Amendment for cultural heritage, but the funding can't be used for operational costs, he said And national programming can't be cut, which is 95 percent of Lakeland's programming. "You're either a PBS member or you're not."

The state funding is also used to match federal funding, Sanford said, with Lakeland receiving about $1.1 million for equipment and operations.

The loss of Lakeland News would leave a void, he said. "The Pioneer does a good job. And we're pretty fortunate to have locally owned media in Bemidji, in general. ... We're pretty unique. In Bemidji, there's some pretty good local news, along with Lakeland Public Television."

The area the station serves includes 400,000 people, he said, from Canada to Little Falls. "It would be a big loss to the area to eventually lose that voice."

Bemidji Day lobbyists split into teams to visit as many senators and representatives as they could between committee meetings. Sanford was paired with Joe Czapiewski of the Bemidji State University Foundation and Jim Elwell of the Headwaters Science Center.

"With media consolidation, it's pretty clear that private funding isn't going to happen as far as television news in our area," Sanford said. Years ago, there was local television with a station in Walker, but it was bought up by WCCO and local broadcasts stopped. "As the big stations buy up the little ones, local service goes away."

The local news isn't all, he said, also citing access to public affairs programming, such as election year forums.