AUGUSTA, Maine — The LePage administration has backed off a proposal to end public campaign financing for gubernatorial candidates, but is instead recommending that lawmakers eliminate all state funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett told members of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee on Wednesday that the administration would like to cut all of the roughly $2 million slated to flow to MPBN in each year of the biennial budget.
“I know this is going to be one that you will want to discuss in detail later on,” Millett said.
John Isacke, vice president and CFO of the radio and television network, said MPBN learned about the proposal to eliminate all state funding less than 24 hours before the hearing.
Isacke said Maine statute actually requires the state to budget money annually to maintain, replace or construct equipment needed to operate the only statewide broadcasting system, so elimination of the funding would be a violation of existing law. But he told lawmakers that the impacts of such a large cut would have dramatic ramifications on every aspect of the network’s operations.
“We do not today know exactly how we will handle losing 20 percent of our operating budget if the Legislature were to act on the governor’s proposal,” Isacke told members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “However, MPBN as you know will most assuredly change and will change dramatically.”
Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, said it came down to a question of whether state taxpayers should continue subsidizing one television and radio network during a budget crunch when there are many other private, local broadcasters. The administration does not believe taxpayers should, she said.
LePage has had a turbulent relationship with the press since the primary and has clashed with MPBN reporters on several occasions. Nationally, Republicans in Congress have also targeted federal funding for the Public Broadcasting Service. But Bennett said tough budget times are the impetus for the the governor’s decisions.
“We are cutting a lot of essential services, and this is an area where we can find some money so that we are not taking any more from services that are affecting many Mainers,” Bennett said.
Advocates for Maine’s Clean Elections program, meanwhile, received good news on Wednesday.
LePage’s package of changes to his $6.1 billion budget that were released last week originally proposed wiping out the $1.8 million earmarked for gubernatorial candidates hoping to participate in the state’s public campaign financing system. LePage ran a privately financed campaign during the 2010 race.
But Millett said the governor would prefer that any changes to the Clean Elections program come from legislation now pending with lawmakers. Several bills make significant changes to the program, including eliminating funding for gubernatorial candidates.
“This was the right thing to do,” Ann Luther, co-chairwoman of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, a nonprofit that advocates for the state’s public campaign financing system, said in a statement. “The changes proposed run counter to the will of Maine people, and they were major policy proposals that deserve a full policy debate, rather than being short-circuited through the budget process.”