Federal Funding in Doubt, MPR Turns to MN Taxpayers

Funding for public broadcasting may be on the chopping block in Washington again. Maybe that explains why Minnesota Public Radio went before state lawmakers this week to ask for a $200,000 raise from Minnesota taxpayers over current funding of $800,000 per biennium. If approved, the increase would boost MPR’s state funding to just over $1 million in the next biennium.mctaggart

MPR operates a news, classical music and contemporary music network with dozens of stations, including one in posh Sun Valley, that generated $96 million in revenue last year. The 2016 annual report filed by parent company American Public Media also reveals that MPR sits on a $185 million endowment. Only four private Minnesota colleges have a bigger endowment.

MPR executives emphasized to lawmakers that the nonprofit network does not use taxpayer funding for news on what critics view as a left-leaning media outlet. So why does the most successful public radio network in the country still need taxpayer support? House Session Daily, a public information service of the Minnesota Legislature, covered the committee hearing.

Insistent that state spending doesn’t go to stations in the Twin Cities, programming, employee salaries or travel and food, MPR President and CEO Jon McTaggart told the House State Government Finance Committee Tuesday the additional funds would be directed to emergency repairs, transmission line replacements, rack mount replacements and other infrastructure upgrades throughout its 45-station web.

Other revenue streams, like individual contributions and corporations’ philanthropic arms, pay for employees and programming.

Overall, the network received $5.9 million in federal and state government funding in 2016, six percent of total revenue. The lion’s share, $4.3 million, came from the federal government through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Yet one reason MPR gives for requesting more funding from Minnesota taxpayers just might resonate with some budget hawks. The network blames the request in part on complying with FCC government regulations.

Some expenses, like painting towers, are because of regulations from the Federal Communications Commission.

John Kavanagh, MPR’s director of public affairs and government relations, said the total “vital” and “necessary” needs exceed $2 million.

The emergency alert system, which requires broadcasters to inform the public of natural disasters, severe weather and child abductions, is “the backbone” of MPR, Kavanagh said. “It’s vital to keep broadcasters … aware of what’s going on in Minnesota.”