Thursday, March 6, 2008

Budget mysteries revealed!

As you may or may not know, MPT gets about one third of its budget from the state. Each year, we go through a lengthy process to prepare and present our budget to the Maryland General Assembly. But what really goes on in Annapolis when it comes to the budget of your favorite public television station? As MPT’s Chief Operating Officer, I’d thought I’d step in and shed some light on a somewhat mysterious—and yes, at some times, confusing!—process

The Maryland General Assembly is in session from January to April of each year. This is when new legislation is discussed and may become law. It's also the time of year that the legislature reviews the overall state budget. Maryland is a bit different from most states in that the legislature can only cut from the budget submitted by the governor. This means nothing can be added, so you really need to make sure that all your needs are met in the budget submitted by the governor.

The process really begins for MPT in August when we submit our budget to the Maryland Department of Budget and Management (DBM). In general, state agencies are asked to submit no more than a certain dollar figure (generally last year’s budget amount) and anything above that needs to go into an “over the target” request. Over a several month period, the budget request is reviewed by DBM and the agency is asked to respond to questions and concerns. In the fall, the DBM analyst makes his or her recommendations. The agency will then respond to the recommendations. The final budget is included as part of the overall state budget submitted to the legislature for approval in December or early January.

At this point, the legislative budget analyst reviews the agency’s budget and looks for places to cut. A few days before the budget hearing, the agency will receive the analyst’s recommendations and will respond directly to the committee hearing their budget.

MPT management generally tries to meet with the members of our budget committees (both the House and the Senate) prior to the hearings. The purpose of these meetings is to insure that each committee member understands the value that MPT brings to the citizens of Maryland. Once this series of meetings is complete, it’s time to attend the actual hearings. These hearings are open to the public, and MPT management is called to testify. The hearings can be long with much discussion depending upon the agency and the issues they face. (This year our hearing in the Senate was very short. This was due in some part to the fact that the analyst recommended no cuts to our budget.) We then repeat the process in the House. If there are issues then we would also attend a “decision hearing” in both the House and Senate.

As I mentioned earlier, MPT receives about one third of its budget from the state. We raise the rest of our budget on our own from members and underwriters and a variety of other sources. We are proud to be a state agency and appreciate the support provided by the state. MPT is ranked within the top ten public television stations in the country, thanks not only to state funding, but the generous support of public television fans like you.

Larry Unger
Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer

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