- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republican lawmakers on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee broke with Gov. Scott Walker and voted Tuesday to scale back his proposed cut to public television and radio, saying more robust fundraising could plug the gap.

The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 Tuesday to reduce the two-year cut to the Educational Communications Board from $4.9 million as Walker originally proposed to $2.3 million. The board runs Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.

The cut is part of the state budget that the committee continues to tweak before sending it to the full Legislature for approval, likely to happen in June.

Both Republicans and Democrats praised public broadcasting on Tuesday. Sen. Luther Olsen, who is a member of the board that runs public television and radio, called the system “one of the gems in the state of Wisconsin.” He made the motion to reduce the cut.

“I believe we are doing the right thing by the citizens of Wisconsin,” he said.

But Democrats objected, saying cutting its budget by $2.3 million still puts programming in jeopardy.

“I would say don’t touch Big Bird or anything that helps Big Bird get his message out,” said Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

Republicans who voted for the cut said even with the reduction the board will still be able to pay for the system that is used for Amber alerts and other emergency signals, as well as protect popular programming. But state funding for the Wisconsin Media Lab program that provides free Wisconsin-specific online educational tools to schools, about $680,000, was cut.

The board will have to find other ways to pay for that work, said Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson.

“Their core functions are going to be able to go on, but they very much need to increase the fundraising,” he said.

Gene Purcell, Educational Communications Board executive director, said he was grateful that about half of the overall cut had been restored, but he was disappointed that money for the Wisconsin Media Lab was eliminated. Purcell said he was working with lawmakers to clarify the intent of their actions and the severity of the cuts.

Even with the cuts, the percentage of state funding for public broadcasting would remain about 35 percent of its total budget, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said.

The board’s total budget, including federal money and other revenue sources, is just shy of $20 million. Under the cut, state funding annually would drop from about $7.8 million to about $6.7 million.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP


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