HARTFORD, CT — For the past 18 years the Connecticut Public Affairs Network has been airing unedited coverage of the General Assembly on the Connecticut Television Network, CT-N, but that coverage could be coming to an end next week.
That’s because the bipartisan budget adopted Thursday by the House and the Senate that’s awaiting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature, reduces its funding so severely that it might not be able to continue its operations.
In an Oct. 14 email obtained by CTNewsJunkie, Paul Giguere, president and CEO of the Connecticut Public Affairs Network, told legislative leaders that the cut they were proposing “specifically the 50 percent reduction in funding for CT-N contemplated in the state budget,” could jeopardize their future.
“As you near agreement of a revised bipartisan budget, please understand that a 50 percent reduction in the CT-N revenue intercept (which funds operating, equipment and infrastructure) would most certainly result in a complete shutdown of the network, as early as October 31,” Giguere wrote.
Oct. 31 is the last day of the current contract, which has already been extended by a year when the contract was put out to bid.
Jim Tracy, who heads the Office of Legislative Management, said earlier this week that “although the Connecticut Public Affairs Network is the preferred vendor to operate CT-N, we are still working on the final phase of the process.”
The Connecticut Public Affairs Network was the only organization to bid on the new contract even though it was going to be less money per year than they currently receive.
The request for proposals reduced the contract from $2.7 million to $2.4 million per year for each year of the five-year contract. On Thursday the General Assembly only approved $1.6 million per year for the contract.
It also canceled $3.2 million in bonding that was supposed to help replace the vintage 1999 stationary video cameras in the legislative hearing rooms.
There are 18 new high definition cameras that have been sitting in boxes in one of the hearing rooms for the past two years as the Office of Legislative Management, which contracts for the services, waits for the state to release funding to have them installed.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he was unaware there were cameras sitting in boxes waiting to be installed.
“If that’s the case then it’s an adjustment we can do next year” Aresimowicz said. “Obviously if we already bought them then we want to install them.”
He said the decision to fund CT-N at $1.6 million was the product of bipartisan negotiations and it took into consideration the reduction in the scope of what CT-N will cover.
“Not ideal, given the fiscal constraints we found ourselves in we decided to make that choice,” Aresimowicz added.
He said he’s not against them covering the executive or judicial branches, but they seem to have expanded their coverage to all areas of the state when they should stay focused on the Greater Hartford region.
“I don’t think anybody liked doing it, but it was one of the cuts we identified,” he added.
Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, who voted against the budget, said he raised the issue of funding for the public affairs network in caucus and no one was able to answer his questions.
“It’s been a wall of silence,” Godfrey said.
He said new contract turns it from a news medium into “an in-house propaganda machine for the legislature.” The new contract curtails coverage of the executive and judicial branches and it curtails coverage of events outside the building.
“I have not been able to get a straight answer,” Godfrey said.
He said essentially this budget means CT-N will cease to exist and not knowing why “is one of the biggest frustrations I’ve had personally.”
He said he can’t understand why they would allow them to continue covering gavel-to-gavel coverage, but tell them they can’t cover the press conference afterwards.
“You can cover the legislature, but you can’t cover the governor’s press conference?”
The whole purpose of CT-N was to fill a void left by legacy television stations, who don’t cover the legislature.
Back in 1999 there was a substantial contraction of reporters from all types of media covering the state Capitol. He said that’s why CT-N was created.
When it goes away next week, “You’re never going to be able to watch your own legislature on your own,” Godfrey said. “And you’re never going to get to know what’s behind a story.”
Godfrey said he’s personally going to miss the meetings of the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners.
Caucus staffers who were asked to put together the new contract and sought to limit to role of the network said they were unaware of the impact the reduction in funding would have on CT-N’s operations.
The Connecticut Public Affairs Network proposed using a fee from cable subscribers to fund the network in 2016. That way the state wouldn’t have to fund its operations.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority that regulates cable TV in the state would set the rates, probably increasing the average bill by about 40 cents a month to cover the costs of increased coverage of Connecticut’s government.
The legislation made it out of the General Administration and Elections Committee, but didn’t go any further in the legislative process.The cable companies described it as a tax on cable subscribers.