For a second time this month, members of the state Educational Broadcasting Authority met in executive session Wednesday to discuss West Virginia Public Broadcasting personnel reductions, and for a second time, took no official action afterward.
“There was no decision that came out, per se,” Scott Finn, executive director of WVPB, said after Wednesday’s meeting.
On March 8, Finn told members of the House Finance Committee that the EBA would be holding a special meeting Wednesday to approve eliminating 20 of WVPB’s 70.5 budgeted full-time positions.
That would involve potential layoffs of 15 employees, as well as elimination of five vacant positions, he said.
“We know something is coming and we have to get ahead of it,” Finn said at the time, anticipating that state funding for Public Broadcasting will be cut, if not eliminated entirely, in the 2017-18 budget year, which begins July 1.
Public Broadcasting’s entire $4.6 million state appropriation — about 45 percent of its total annual operating budget — would be eliminated under Gov. Jim Justice’s 2017-18 budget plan, which proposes about $26.6 million in spending cuts and about $355 million in tax increases to help close a nearly $500 million shortfall in the 2017-18 state budget.
However, on the day Finn announced the layoffs, the governor’s office provided audio of Justice’s appearance on a state talk radio program, in which he said all budget cuts could be avoided if the Legislature approves his plan to issue $2.8 billion of bonds for highways construction. He said that would create 48,000 jobs and provide more than $200 million a year in new payroll tax collections.
“To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to do away with Public Broadcasting,” Justice said at the time. “I’d like to pull [the cuts] right back off the table right now.
On Monday, House and Senate leaders unveiled the “framework” for their budget counterproposal, which would cap the 2017-18 general revenue budget at $4.055 million, about $390 million less than the current state budget, and nearly $450 million less than Justice’s $4.5 billion budget proposal.
Legislative leadership said House and Senate Finance subcommittees are reviewing specific cuts, but indicated that public education, higher education and Health and Human Resources budgets will each be cut by about $50 million. The size or scope of cuts on other state agencies is unknown at the moment.
While no formal action was taken by the EBA on Wednesday, Finn said he’s hopeful that retirements and attrition between now and the start of the budget year on July 1 will help alleviate the necessity for large numbers of layoffs.
“I’m hopeful we’ll be able to do this without too many layoffs,” he said.