PA State Budget at Impasse; Aid To Libraries Could Be Cut 14% to 55%
Philadelphia proposes "doomsday" scenario, closing all libraries
Norman Oder -- Library Journal, 08/24/2009
- Budget is two months late
- Big differences between House and Senate
- State cuts lead to loss of federal aid
- Philadelphia needs approval of sales tax increase
A state budget impasse lasting nearly two months has put Pennsylvania libraries in turmoil, leading to at least one branch closing, preparations for more closures should delays continue, and the fear that the final budget will impose painful, potentially enormous cuts in library service.
Meanwhile, the city of Philadelphia, desperate for the state to approve a one cent increase in sales tax needed to balance its budget, is preparing for what the city calls “the most radical, painful, and unprecedented dismantling of City government” since 1951, including the closing of all libraries and recreation centers, and massive cuts in almost all departments. A vote on the sales tax may come this week.
Despite proposed cuts in library programs ranging from 14.3% (the House plan) to 15.9% (Gov. Ed Rendell’s plan) to 55.3% (the Senate plan), library advocates hope that the state budget—which must respond to a 10% decline in state revenues—will maintain level funding for library programs. (The House is controlled by Democrats, while the Senate is run by Republicans; Rendell is a Democrat.)
“I don’t know if it’s realistic” to achieve level funding, Glenn Miller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA), told LJ. But libraries in the state are busier than ever, serving as “the emergency room for the unemployed and their families,” he said in an email to library supporters. Thus library funding—just .3% of the state budget—shouldn’t be reduced.
The budget for the state library has already been cut in half and that is firm, given that the part of the state budget dealing with state employees has been approved. The rest of the budget could be approved sometime in September, Miller said, but could linger until nearly Christmas, as happened in 2003.
State aid significant
Direct state aid for libraries rose early in the decade, thanks to the concerted efforts of then-Gov. Tom Ridge, who revamped library aid and used it to leverage local support. Last year, out of $94.65 million in library support, the public library subsidy was $75.75 million.
Now, Rendell would cut that direct aid by 12.2%, while the House plan would cut it by 10.2%. In both cases, that would trigger a $1.9 million loss in federal funds. The Senate plan, however, would reduce the public library subsidy by 51.2%, leading to an additional $4.35 million loss in federal aid.
On August 11, Gov. Rendell held a public/press event at the East Shore Area Library in Dauphin County. “In the heat of this budget impasse, the mere fact that the Governor decided to do this event in a library is a sure sign that library advocates are, in fact, making progress,” Miller wrote in a message to library advocates arguing for level funding.
“Rendell wants to make a point his budget is better for libraries than the others,” Miller told LJ, “but the reality is that even his proposal will have a pretty significant impact.”
Don Bernhard, president of the library board, told the newspaper, ''We had to start doing some things to reduce our expenditures.'' Allentown relies on state aid for about 12% of its budget.
Some public libraries rely on state aid for 10% of their budgets, but others use it for 40% of their budgets, Miller said. So a 12.2% cut in public library aid would lead to loss of hours and materials, while the 51.2% cut would lead to additional closures.
District library centers, which are regional cooperatives, are especially dependent on state aid. “If something doesn’t break here pretty quickly, over the next 30 days, the district libraries will be rolling out reduction plans,” Miller said.
Both the Governor’s budget and the House's propose a 29.8% cut in programs supporting statewide databases (POWER library), a statewide card, interlibrary delivery, and more. Meanwhile, the Republican plan would eliminate all of the programs.
The PaLA warns, “If you’ve downloaded a magazine article; if you’ve done online research for a homework assignment; if you’ve used EBSCO Host; if you’ve searched the AP photo archive; or if you’ve taken advantage of the hundreds of online resources offered, you’ve used the POWER Library…. POWER Library faces the real threat of elimination in the next state budget that is still unresolved in Harrisburg. Despite widespread use, taxpayer savings, and overwhelming success, POWER Library faces deep cuts in the budget plan passed in the State House of Representatives, and ELIMINATION in the plans that passed the State Senate.”