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MEDIA FUNDING

Austin public stations ‘very concerned’ about proposed funding cuts: A budget proposal from President Donald Trump to “zero out” federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting could result in budget cuts for Central Texas public radio and TV stations.

The combined hit for Austin’s PBS affiliate KLRU-TV, NPR affiliate KUT-FM and sister station KUTX-FM, and classical music station KMFA-FM could reach $2.5 million each year, according to the stations’ leadership.

KLRU estimates it would lose about 12 percent of its annual budget, KUT and KUTX say they could lose 5 percent, and KMFA says it could lose 8 percent.

The rest of the stations’ funding comes from a variety of other sources, such as grants and pledge drives. Stepped-up fundraising efforts are one possible option being looked at to bridge potential budget gaps, the stations say.

In 2016, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting received $445 million in federal money. Some of that money is used to finance programs made available to member stations such as “Nova,” while 1,136 local radio stations and 362 local TV stations share about 70 percent of that money.

Without the Corporation for Public Broadcasting money, broadcasters in Austin and elsewhere could be forced to make difficult decisions. Staffing could be cut, programs eliminated, and community outreach efforts trimmed back.

“We could lose the very programming that makes PBS so trusted,” KLRU CEO Bill Stotesbery said. “We’re also talking about many educational services for low- and moderate-income kids. We’re very concerned about the loss of coverage, reach and impact.”

KLRU in recent months has moved to increase its local news and public affairs offerings, including the hiring of well-known Austin journalist Judy Maggio. Less funding could potentially diminish or undo those efforts.

News also takes up a big part of the budget for KUT and KUTX. The potential $600,000 loss the stations face represents about half of the KUT newsroom’s annual budget, General Manager Stewart Vanderwilt said.

“This is money that goes to local communities to support local services,” Vanderwilt said. “This isn’t money that sits in Washington. This funding can’t be replaced.”

TEXAS TAXES

Texas House members take a swing at franchise tax: After a bill to phase out the state’s franchise tax won approval from the Texas Senate, some House members made clear last week that they also want to take a whack at the state’s main business tax.

“I believe that it is time we put this tax to bed,” said state Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Houston, testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee. A bill Schofield co-authored — House bill 599 — would cut the franchise tax rate by a third every two-year state budget cycle in which state revenue is projected to rise by at least 6 percent, until the tax rate hits zero and is eliminated.

The Committee took testimony on Schofield’s bill and several other House bills that either would phase out the tax over several years, based upon various formulas, or that would eliminate it entirely beginning Jan. 1.

The previous week, the Senate approved Senate bill 17, authored by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, on a 23-7 vote and sent it to the House, which has yet to consider it. Nelson’s bill would dedicate half of any state revenue growth above 5 percent to cutting the franchise tax — also known as the margins tax.

Based on current revenue estimates, Nelson has said the tax could be phased out within about 10 years as a result.

Representatives of a number of business organizations turned out Wednesday to testify in favor of eliminating the tax, praising the overall legislative effort as much as the particulars of the individual bills. As in the past, they criticized the tax, accusing it of placing an unfair financial burden on businesses, causing administrative headaches and requiring some businesses to pay it even in years when they’re unprofitable.

But other speakers voiced skepticism that Texas is in a position to eliminate a major tax at a time when it’s having trouble bridging a multibillion-dollar gap in its budget for the upcoming 2018-19 biennium. Rep. Drew Darby, a GOP member of the Ways and Means Committee, was among them.

“The reality is, we have to provide for essential services,” said Darby, R-San Angelo. He called it “a wing and a prayer” to expect the Texas economy to grow uninterrupted indefinitely and always provide enough revenue from sales taxes tax to cover state needs.

The Ways and Means Committee left all of the bills pending after taking testimony on them.



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