Trenton Weighs NJN's Future

On Monday, New Jersey lawmakers will consider a bill that would get the state out of the public broadcasting business. Supporters of the measure hope it will keep New Jersey Network running.

The New Jersey Senate President, Democratic Steve Sweeney, said he has reached a bipartisan deal that will help NJN become independent. He said it will relieve  the state of the network's operating costs in the long term, while preventing Governor Chris Christie from pulling the plug in the short term.

"The Governor has committed to keeping the lights on for NJN until the end of June, which gives us time to figure a solution out," said Sweeney.

A spokesman for Governor Chrisite would not confirm how much additonal time NJN had, but did say that the Governor would not pull the plug and disrupt its transition to independence as laid out in Sweeney's bill.

In November, Chrsitie sent out layoff notices effective January 1 to NJN's 130 employees. Christie has said the state's can no longer afford the $11 million annual subsidy it provides NJN.

Sweeney said potential contributors to a re-established NJN need to be confident NJN can survive.

"When the announcement was that NJN was going to shut down, all the fundraising went away," said Sweeny. "So we have a new lease on life for now. It might be temporary and we are going to work to find a solution."

Dudley Burdge is with the union that represents NJN's 130 workers. He said under the bill, the state would actually retain the TV license, giving the state some leverage on whatever entity takes over production of the network's programming.

"We had felt all along that it was absolutely necessary to insure that there was New Jersey coverage given our history," said Burdge.

While the bill would keep NJN on the air, it leaves open the possibility of selling its nine FM radio frequencies.

Burdge says the decline of newspapers makes keeping NJN's news programming even more important.

"The Times no longer has a Trenton bureau," observed Burdge. "There have been cutbacks across the board at the other newspapers. The Star Ledger has lost a tremendous number of people."

Several public broadcasters have been involved in discussions over how best to help NJN survive without its state funding stream, including WNET and WNYC.