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Legislature's Appropriations Committee Rejects Elimination of MPBN Funding
04/06/2012   Reported By: Mal Leary

Members of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee met late into last night voting on scores of items in the proposed supplemental budget, rejecting proposed reductions of $2.4 million to the state's higher education facilities, the Community College, Maine Maritime and the University Systems. They also approved funding of $8 million for the shortfall in the Children's Developmental Services Program. They also unanimously rejected Gov. Paul LePage's proposal to eliminate all state funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. Mal Leary of Capitol News Service has our report.

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Gov. LePage proposed eliminating the $1.7 million in the state budget for MPBN, in the budget starting July 1.  Panel members made it clear they were upset that funding for the network has become a political football.  Rep. John Martin, a Democrat from Eagle Lake told fellow panel members he would not ever support cutting MPBN funding because of its importance to rural areas, such as his district in northern Maine.

"We want to make sure that there is state dollars that make it feasible for the program to exist for those of us in the rural areas," Martin said.  "And I do support, obviously, the amendment as a mechanism to get to, hopefully, a point to where it does not become a political football."

Rep. Kathleen Chase, a Wells Republican, agreed, saying the language the committee added to the bill requiring a study over the summer of ways to move MPBN funding from an appropriation from the state to the state paying for the specific service of providing the backbone of the statewide emergency alert system is a better situation for both.

"Over the last year and half it's been very clear that this has been, unfortunately, a political football bounced around here and kicked back and forth," she said. "And I think it just makes much more sense to move forward in a contractual matter and say, 'This is exactly the services we're providing,' and there's no gray area there."

Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican from Augusta, offered that amendment, which was unanimously adopted.  It directs the state to work with MPBN to determine what it costs to provide the emergency alert system, a report from MPBN on their future plans, and a report on how MPBN may use its transmission bandwidth to provide other services to the state for a fee.

"A plan whereby over the next five years, the appropriation which is provided by the state to MPBN would gradually be reduced and replaced by fee-for-service contracts to be agreed to by the parties for the kinds of services I was just talking about," Katz said.

MPBN President Mark Vogelzang drew praise from the committee members for being willing to work towards a new relationship between the network and the state.  He says the committee action is a good outcome for MPBN. 

"Look at new ways of working with the state of Maine, so from that standpoint, I'm very pleased," Vogelzang says. "And I'm especially pleased that we've had that $1.7 million restored.  It's not all of the money we had asked for and it's still going to be a 13 percent decline over this year into next year.  So it will be a tough one, but I think we're happy."

Vogelzang says the network will work with state officials over the summer months to explore other areas where the network can provide a service to the state other than the emergency alert system.  He says the network looks on the change as an opportunity. 

The Appropriations Committee plans to spend most of today working on the scores of items that still need to be resolved.  For example, while there's been a lot of discussion about the shortfall in general assistance, there is still no agreement on how to address the issue.



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