When Gov. Rod Blagojevich slashed the state budget last week, he punctured the airwaves of public television and radio stations, along with a statewide public service TV channel.

When Gov. Rod Blagojevich slashed the state budget last week, he punctured the airwaves of public television and radio stations, along with a statewide public service TV channel.

Included among the $463 million in cuts Blagojevich announced last Thursday were $100,000 for grants to public television and radio stations for operating costs and $1.36 million for administrative expenses.

The reductions mean public broadcasting will receive as much as 30 percent less this year from state government than last year, said Chet Tomczyk, president and CEO of WTVP-TV in Peoria, and a board member of the national Association of Public Television Stations and the Illinois Public Broadcasting Council.

“For stations, it’s going to be a fairly significant cut,” Tomczyk said Wednesday.

“We had to make some difficult decisions about what the state can really afford and what our most critical spending priorities should be,” said Justin DeJong, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. “We think we ended up with a budget that better reflects the needs and values of the people of our state.”

At the Peoria public television station, the cuts could total $65,000, Tomczyk said. Because he doesn’t know the exact amount, Tomczyk didn’t want to speculate about what areas he might have to trim, but pointed to services and personnel as possibilities.

“It’s going to be pretty drastic,” he said.

Tomczyk said public TV and radio executives across the state plan a conference call today (Thursday) to talk about the situation.

“There was nothing particularly aimed at public broadcasting,” he said. “I think we were caught up in the line-item cuts.”

At WUIS-FM in Springfield, general manager Bill Wheelhouse expects the station will get at least $15,000 less this year.

“We’re on a pretty tight budget here, so $15,000 is a significant cut,” Wheelhouse said. “I think it slows our growth, more than anything.”

The station will try to spread the cuts around, but probably will have to hold off on technological improvements and may limit staff travel.

“It just makes our jobs a little bit harder,” Wheelhouse said.

He hopes the General Assembly revisits the cuts via a supplemental budget.

Also carved out of the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 was a $1 million grant to the Illinois Channel, which broadcasts C-SPAN-like public service television programs to about 1.3 million homes in the state.

That would have been the first state money for the 4-year-old nonpartisan channel, said Terry Martin, its executive director. With it, the Illinois Channel hoped to begin to expand programming from about two hours a week to up to six hours or more a day.

Now, the channel will have to scale back planned coverage of events such as planning for the 200th birthday celebration for Abraham Lincoln in 2009, the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debates next year and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s run for the presidency.

“We’ll still do as much as we can,” Martin said, but he will have to delay plans to hire staff and expand the number of productions.

The prolonged state budget battle this year, he said, “is evidence of why it’s so important to have some reliable source of televised coverage coming out of the state Capitol.”

All of the cuts came from appropriations that were to be distributed by the Illinois Arts Council. None of the broadcast executives would speculate whether their concerns were caught up in what many have called a political rationale behind Blagojevich’s funding decisions.

Many of the cuts the governor made were to programs sought by Illinois House Democrats and Senate Republicans, who have fought his proposals during budget negotiations. The chairwoman of the Arts Council is Shirley Madigan, wife of House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago.

The governor’s office has denied there were any political motivations behind Blagojevich’s cuts.


Dana Heupel can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or dana.heupel@sj-r.com.