Louisiana Denied State Aid; Support Varies Elsewhere

August 8, 2012

“FY2012 has proven to be relatively stable,” the bipartisan National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) said August 7 in its State Budget Update: Summer 2012 (PDF file). “Projected revenues and appropriations in FY2013 also are expected to rise moderately.” Although a sustained robust recovery still eludes state coffers, the NCSL report affirms that “new budget gaps are rare and confined to a few states.”

According to NCSL, all 32 states with annual July 1–June 30 fiscal cycles finalized their budgets by mid-July, and almost half have projected FY2013 upswings in sales and corporate income taxes. The big unknown is how long it will take for that nascent upswing to reach libraries after years of uncertain support in many states—and how much sustained advocacy will be needed to remind lawmakers that it is worth funding libraries for residents’ quality of life as well as communities’ return on investment.

Budgetary bellwether

Libraries in the bellwether state of California were pleased to find that Gov. Jerry Brown maintained $4.7 million in FY2013 funding for public library literacy programs and the California Library Services Act. The aid helps offset local revenue shortfalls perpetuated, in part, by Proposition 13, which limits property taxation.

Avoiding such havoc, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a property-tax cap for his own state, and voters in North Dakota rejected a June ballot measure that would have abolished property taxes altogether. Michigan lawmakers averted a similar proposal by amending several bills so that local governing authorities could repeal property taxes only if they found an equal revenue stream—and additionally appropriated $6.5 million in new and restored funding.

Libraries are faring poorly, however, in Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal zeroed out the entire budget line of $896,000 for State Aid to Public Libraries for FY2013. Jindal eliminated the funding in his February budget proposal, which lawmakers declined to alter, and signed it into law June 15. At its height in FY2007, the state aid program provided $3 million for libraries to spend on acquisitions and technology.

“In tight budget times, we prioritized funding for health care and education,” Jindal’s chief budget aide Paul Rainwater said in the June 13 Baton Rouge Advocate. “Operations such as local libraries can be supported with local, not state, dollars.” On July 6, the Lafayette Advertiser reported that Michael DiResto, spokesperson for the state Division of Administration headed by Rainwater, had emailed a further explanation: two federal grants totaling $1.8 million “more than makes up for the $896,000 in direct state funding,” DiResto wrote.

However, those three-year Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grants are intended solely to improve access to high-speed internet in underserved areas, as well as statewide access to online tutoring, job-seeking resources, and assistive technology to facilitate computer use by people with disabilities.

The loss of $11,500—the state aid allotted to each library system—is harder on areas where property tax collections have yet to rebound. “It’s shifting the costs of the state doing business onto the local taxpayer because we’re seeing more usage on the computers and printers, but the state is not giving us any extra money to provide services—they’ve taken it all away,” Acadia Parish Library Director Ted Landry said in The Advertiser.

At East Carroll Parish Library in Lake Providence, Director Renee Whatley had counted on that $11,500 to replace the library’s outdated workstations. She said in the July 23 Advocate, “A lot of people are never going to own their own personal computer,” and others who may have a machine can’t afford internet service. For them, the library is their only provider Whatley said, since “We don’t have a McDonald’s,” which makes free Wi-Fi available to customers.


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