KET seeking support in funding fight

LOUISVILLE — Kentucky's home for Big Bird and Antiques Roadshow is bracing for a crucial vote in Congress that threatens to pull the plug on federal funding for KET.

The network warns that the loss of nearly $2.9 million in federal funding — 14 percent of its budget — would result in cuts to programming and staffing. Consequences could include fewer KET-originated programs and a smaller lineup of nationally popular programs, KET officials said.

"This would dramatically affect KET's ability to provide educational programs and services," KET Executive Director Shae Hopkins said in a statement Wednesday.

The cutback is part of a proposal by congressional Republicans to eliminate the federal subsidy for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It's part of a sweeping package of spending cuts being considered by the GOP-led House, though the measure would also have to clear the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Since January 2008, KET has absorbed an approximately 25 percent reduction in state tax support, the PBS member station said. KET's staff has shrunk from 223 full-time employees to 152 during that time, it said.

Lexington-based KET has mounted a counteroffensive aimed at building a groundswell of opposition to the proposed federal cut. Hopkins urged the statewide network's supporters to contact members of Congress.

"These funds support a significant amount of our local productions and the staff that make them possible," she said in a recent message to KET supporters, adding that its federal funding amounts to about 76 cents for each Kentuckian.

Rep. Ed Whitfield's office has heard from constituents who feel "very passionately" about public broadcasting, said Robert Sumner, a spokesman for the Republican who represents a large swath of Western Kentucky.

"Congressman Whitfield appreciates the service public broadcasting provides, but given these harsh realities, Congress must consider cuts and reductions across a wide spectrum," he said.

He added that Whitfield "will carefully review these proposals over the coming days."

Rep. Ben Chandler, a Democrat representing Central Kentucky, said cutting KET and the rest of public broadcasting is the wrong place to look for needed reductions in federal spending.

"This station has touched countless people through the years," he said in a recent House speech.

Chandler personalized his defense of federal support for public broadcasting: "My three children grew up watching Sesame Street just like I did when I was a kid."