Tampa public broadcast funds face cuts

Gov. Rick Scott’s red pen signed off on $615 million worth of budget cuts this legislative season, and public broadcasting was no exception.

WUSF, USF’s public media network, was among the state public networks that lost nearly $4.8 million in state funds. WUSF TV and radio lost $500,000, taking a 30 percent cut in state appropriations and losing more state funds than any other Tampa public broadcasting network.

JoAnn Urosfsky, general manager at WUSF, said state funds, which make up 6 percent of WUSF’s total funds, became increasingly important when federal funds for public broadcasting were challenged earlier this year.

Though congressional funding for public radio remains relatively similar to previous years, recent talk of slashing funding has WUSF concerned, Urofsky said.

“WUSF Public Media is working on a financial plan that will minimize the loss of services to our audiences,” she said in an email. “We have reduced our staff by one-third over the past three years due to decreasing state funds, and we will be examining all our services to see which can be reduced or eliminated. It’s premature to suggest what those things might be.”

Urofsky said the cuts would have significant consequences for WUSF, “resulting in the loss of programs, services and jobs.” She said the governor’s decision to veto funding for public broadcasting isn’t in line with his own statements, such as a letter in which he stated he was vetoing “special interests” and one-time projects.

“The governor’s own words make a very strong case for restoring funding to public television and radio,” Urofsky said. “We are not a special interest group. All Floridians are beneficiaries of our services. We are not a one-time turkey inserted into the budget. We are Florida’s virtual classroom.

“Teachers and home-schoolers rely upon our resources and programs to educate children. Families of pre-school children are quick to attest that it is an instrumental tool for expanding their children’s vocabulary and thirst for learning. We believe we have a strong case for seeing this funding restored.”

Laura Fage, vice president of communications for WEDU, which lost $435,000 in state funds, said the station will have to cut back on community event spending to retain its current programming.

“The loss is devastating, certainly,” she said. “When you take that funding away from a public media company, it can be devastating. We’re looking at where the opportunities might be in the future to look for new sources of funding.”

Fage said she hopes the state voters who have funded public broadcasting for the past 40 years will consider revoking the veto in the fall through a referendum. Urofsky said WUSF will work with the Legislature to ensure that funding returns.

“Stations understand the state’s fiscal challenges,” she said. “But outright elimination through the veto is shortsighted and misguided. Public broadcasting is an efficient investment in education.”