TRENTON - New Jersey's public television network is planning its transformation into an independent nonprofit, the network's top executive told the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

Howard Blumenthal, interim executive director of New Jersey Network, told the panel that NJN would continue to focus on news, public affairs, and Jersey-centric programming, not just on television but across various media platforms, including the Internet.

Gov. Christie has called for NJN - the only network to broadcast his budget address live in March - to operate independently as of Jan. 1, ending close to 40 years of state ownership.

"In these tough economic times, there are things that can be done by the private sector [that] should be done by the private sector," said Sean Conner, a Christie spokesman.

In the current fiscal year, NJN's total budget - including funding from the state, the network's foundation, the federal government, and other sources - is about $28 million, Blumenthal said. The state will contribute a $4 million subsidy, $2.4 million in employee benefits, and $4.5 million in state facilities, parking, and other costs, he said.

Christie has proposed cutting in half the $4 million appropriation for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Blumenthal said he could not answer some of the senators' questions about the transition because some issues must be settled by the Legislature and governor's office regarding the implementation.

Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex) was among those who said she hoped NJN would manage without state support.

"It would be a shame if NJN didn't continue," Buono said. "A lot of people have come to rely on it. We stand ready - I'm sure I speak for every member on this committee - to move forward and would like to be an integral part of the process."

Blumenthal told the committee that in a highly competitive media environment, NJN had fallen behind and would need to rebuild to become competitive.

"We'll do more, we'll do it with less. Our production systems will change so they're consistent with the industry, not with the industry 20 years ago," he said.

Of the 174 public television licenses nationwide, 20 belong to states and territories, 90 to community nonprofits, 58 to colleges and universities, and six to local school boards, according to NJN.

NJN is one of the few public television networks that produces a daily news program, according to Blumenthal.

The state Legislature established the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority in 1968, and by 1971, New Jersey Public Television, as the network was known, was on the air with educational programming for students.

"The governor recognizes the role and service public television and radio have in New Jersey," Richard Bagger, Christie's chief of staff and a former NJN Foundation trustee, said in a statement to NJN in March. "We have already started working with NJN's leadership and staff to transition NJN to a self-sustaining organization with the capacity for future growth."

In Pennsylvania, state grants to public television stations were cut from $7.6 million in fiscal year 2009 to $1 million in 2010, according to Gary Tuma, a spokesman for Gov. Rendell.

The governor has proposed eliminating state funding in fiscal year 2011.

Pennsylvania also subsidized public television technology $3.6 million in fiscal year 2009, Tuma said.

In 2010, the state is providing $1.5 million, and for fiscal year 2011, Rendell has proposed $1 million.

Contact staff writer Adrienne Lu at 609-989-8990 or alu@phillynews.com.