Magazine article American Libraries

The Fiscal State of the States; Forecast for 2007: Barometer Steady; Windfalls Possible

Magazine article American Libraries

The Fiscal State of the States; Forecast for 2007: Barometer Steady; Windfalls Possible

Article excerpt

Arizona is in a time of surplus combined with officials wishing to reduce taxes," observed State Librarian GladysAnn Wells February 2 in answer to an American Libraries funding-outlook survey. Of the 20 respondents to AL's January 30 request for information from the nation's 50 state libraries and the District of Columbia, seven reported that while their governing authority's cash flow is improving, little if anything more is trickling down to FY2007 library budgets.

Idaho, for example, "has a projected surplus of one-time revenue this year, a welcome change after the past five years," said State Librarian Ann Joslin. As a result, legislators there are deciding "how to deal with local property taxes, which fund public libraries and a portion of school-district operations as well as cities and counties." Residents' attitudes vary according to local economies, she explained: "Areas with rapidly growing populations or rapidly increasing residential property values are in tax-revolt mode, while other areas of the state are satisfied with the tax structure and are concerned about losing services."

In Nebraska, revenues are also exceeding expectations, but "had not resulted in restored funding for state, regional, and local library programs," State Librarian Rod Wagner told AL. Consequently, even though the legislature is revisiting its biennial budget midway through FY2005-07, Omaha and Lincoln city libraries, as well as those in a number of smaller communities, anticipate a continuing struggle with local budget cuts.

New York is experiencing similar strains. "Often, as county and municipal governments struggle with increased costs for Medicaid, pensions, and other expenses, library budgets are among the first to be cut," stated Carol Ann Desch, coordinator of statewide library services for New York State Library. Gov. George Pataki's FY2007 budget, issued January 17, proposed the same state support for libraries as in FY2006 even though most of the state is "facing considerable economic challenges," Desch said.

Debt in the wind

Responses to the AL survey were consistent with a fall 2005 survey of public libraries conducted by the American Library Association's Office for Research and Statistics, in which 58.2% of public library respondents expected the fiscal climate to remain about the same, approximately 32.4% anticipated some improvement in local tax revenue, and some 9.4% were bracing for more reductions.

The survey asked libraries about their budget experiences from FY2003 to FY2006. "Overall, the increases clustered in the 1-4% ranges for the fiscal years studied, with approximately 18% of libraries surveyed reporting in these ranges for each fiscal year," ORS Director Denise M. Davis said. A report on the survey is slated for inclusion in "The State of America's Libraries," to be released in during National Library Week.

"Public libraries are at a real disadvantage in competing for funds in city and county governments in Oregon," State Librarian Jim Scheppke agreed, explaining, "Public safety has become a big priority, and tax rates and the growth of property values are both capped."

Libraries in Illinois and Washington were also straining to survive in spite of tax caps. In California, where tax-cap initiatives were born almost three decades ago with the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, State Librarian Susan Hildreth reported that strong advocacy networks are "springing into action when service cuts are threatened," such as in the 2005 rescue of libraries in Salinas (see p. 25). In another hopeful sign, 98% of the state's 179 public library jurisdictions qualified in FY2006 for state subsidies, which are granted if local funding remains stable.

Ohio libraries, which have traditionally enjoyed strong per-capita support (AL, Oct. 2005, p. 43), have seen their funding frozen at last year's levels. "We anticipate that more library systems will look to local property tax levies in the future," reported Lynda Murray, lobbyist for the Ohio Library Council. …

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