New Jersey has sold the licenses of two public broadcast television stations for $332 million.
Now, a battle is shaping up on what should be done with the proceeds.
The Free Press Action Fund is urging the money go to rebuild journalism at the local level in New Jersey.
“The thousands of reporters that have been laid off, the dozens of newsrooms that have closed down, that doesn’t just affect the journalism industry, that affects communities,” said Mike Rispoli of the group. “They’ve told us that they feel invisible because no one is covering their community, they can’t get information, so this is a matter of the public good.”
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, vice chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, isn’t convinced.
“I don’t know how we would make that argument to take that money and scatter it about the landscape to support just general journalism because I don’t know if that’s place where taxpayer money should be,” said Burzichelli, D-Gloucester.
New Jersey’s public television network NJTV is seeking at least some of the proceeds to assure its long-term sustainability.
Burzichelli, who said he agrees with that plan, said part of the proceeds should also go toward making Statehouse proceedings more readily available for broadcast.
“So things like budget hearings, things like the Bridgegate stuff, which in the end was televised to some extent, that it would be easier for those kinds of things to be televised and streamed through the internet with both audio and visuals,” he said. “It would be easier to people to stay in touch with what’s taking place at the Statehouse.”
Reconciling the differing views won’t be easy, Burzichelli said.
“That’s a battle that’s going to take place over the next couple of weeks because the budget desperately needs revenue, and this money is already counted in the governor’s proposal,” he said. “So prying it away from the general budget is going to be a challenge.”
Gov. Chris Christie has been counting on the money. When he unviled his proposed budget, it had a placeholder of $325 million for “asset sales” that his administration would not give details on at the time.