December 14, 2017

CT Library Supporters Worry as Doomsday Spending Plan Hangs Overhead

Connecticut State Capitol
Photo credit: jglazer75 via Wikimedia Commons

Being able to easily get their hands on materials needed for job hunting, financial or legal research, or college applications, whether or not their local branch has them, saves library patrons in Connecticut money and time. In many cases, it may be their only option.

But interlibrary loans are one of the key services threatened there. Currently Connecticut is without a budget, instead operating off of an emergency executive order that slashes critical funding to the Connecticut State Library (CSL), an executive branch agency that provides many basic programs and services to libraries of all types, as well as administering grants and other funds.

FISCAL SHOWDOWN

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s original two-year state budget was revised in May to address a deficit of $2.3 billion for FY18, a larger shortfall than had been anticipated when the budget was originally proposed in February. (For the following fiscal year, the deficit yawns wider—to $2.8 billion, or a 14 percent gap.)

Legislators have been at an impasse for months now on how to close that deficit, with the bickering sometimes occurring on the same side of the aisle. Increased taxes and concessions by union workers are both major bones of contention.

In the last week of June, Malloy presented a three-month interim budget he asked legislators to ratify, since it was clear that a full two-year budget would not be passed before the end of FY17 on June 30. But support in the House faltered.

As the fiscal year ended without a final budget decision being reached, Governor Malloy issued the Executive Order Resource Allocation Plan Fiscal Year 2018, which dictates how the state’s operating costs will be funded. (See page B-60 for data related to libraries.) Considered a worst-case scenario, such an order can only be implemented in the rare situation that there is no budget in place when a fiscal year begins. Until a budget is ratified, the plan laid out in the executive order will prevail.

THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE

Malloy’s plan cuts more than $1.7 million in funding to the CSL, which translates to 18 percent of its total operating expenses.

It halves funds for online research databases, including legal resources, and completely eliminates funding for the Connecticut Library Consortium (CLC), a group that secures discounts on products and services for more than 800 participating libraries by leveraging collective purchasing power. That loss would be catastrophic to the health of the consortium. “Our reserves would only keep us going for about three years,” explained Jennifer Keohane, CLC’s executive director. “With that $190,000 [the plan has cut], CLC can help libraries across the state save more than $7,400,000.”

Connecticut’s flagship resource sharing programs (borrowIT CT and deliverIT CT, formerly known as Connecticard and Connecticar respectively, which allow for statewide reciprocal interlibrary loans) were already underfunded and would take an additional hit under the current plan. “Further cuts would essentially end resource sharing in Connecticut,” Connecticut Library Association (CLA) president Glenn Grube told Library Journal.

The especially popular delivery service had already instituted volume caps on how many items can be shipped per day, and thus many of the 192 participating libraries have had to turn away some requests for loans.

“One of our challenges has been we have not had the additional budget resources needed to meet the huge increase in volume that we have experienced over the past few years,” said Kendall Wiggin, Connecticut state librarian. A retooled iteration of deliverIT CT was being piloted as of July 17, but it is not designed to fully address the volume problem. Rather, it’s meant to bring a uniform basic level of service to libraries statewide, noted Wiggin.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

State legislative cuts to library funding can also result in federal cuts. That’s because federal funding flows to a state only when that state is able to demonstrate “maintenance of effort” levels of library funding. The CSL receives about $2 million annually from the federal government, which is used not only to support basic programs and services, but for various grants to individual local libraries. With the executive order plan indefinitely in place, Connecticut’s loss of federal funds would come to nearly $600,000.

It’s also worth noting that funding for social services, arts, and cultural programs across Connecticut are being deeply cut as well, which also has repercussions for the state’s libraries. “The needs of the community don’t go away when you cut a social service program. The community just brings its needs to the library,” said Keohane.

Because the executive order reduces funding for towns to spend on education, town budgets in Connecticut have stalled. That state of limbo trickles down to public libraries as well, which in turn are left with no choice but to freeze some programs and services as they wait to find out how much of a budget they’ll have to work with.

UNCERTAINTY INSPIRES ACTION

As of press time there are several competing state budget proposals on the table, and though experts are hopeful, it would still be all too easy for legislators to use library services as bargaining chips. “The structural budget challenges have put even the most cost effective and popular programs that receive state funding at risk,” CLA lobbyist Kate Robinson told LJ. “If there is an upside to this difficult situation, it is that we have found that there is broad, bipartisan support for maintaining funding for library services. We continue to advocate to preserve funds for the borrowIT program. We have been gratified that all counter proposals since then have included adequate library funding.”

The CLA is calling on legislators to pass a budget that maintains funding for library services at FY17 levels. “Until the legislature passes a budget, we have only been allocated half of last year’s funding, which means we have to cut many of our databases. [That will] affect all academic, public, and school libraries in the state,” said Grube.

It’s not known yet when a final vote will come. The sources LJ spoke with estimated it could be anytime from July to well into September.

“We cannot afford to let up on our communication about the value of library services to state and federal decision makers. We are all tired and stressed and just want to be able to do what we joined this profession to do: provide our communities with open access to resources important to their quality of life and to help them use these resources effectively,” said Keohane.

The Governor’s executive order will remain in place until the Connecticut legislature passes either an interim (short-term) or a full biennial budget, either of which may well have different funding allocations for libraries than the executive order plan does. Part of what is making the budget’s passage such a challenge is that “the governor does not have the authority to raise revenue on his own. Therefore, in the current fiscal year, he can only make cuts in order to balance the budget,” noted Robinson. Also, both the Senate and the House have tight party margins. The House has 79 Democrats and 72 Republicans; the Senate is equally divided;. In the case of as complex a document as a state budget, “the close margins make it difficult for the Democrat leaders to keep everyone committed to vote yes,” on any one proposal, noted Robinson.

So while Robinson is grateful for the bipartisan support for libraries that has been demonstrated in the current proposals, “getting a majority in both chambers to support the general budget, which will surely have more controversy associated with it, is the harder part.”

ADVICE TO ADVOCATES

Connecticut residents looking to take concrete action to preserve library funding in their state can submit a petition form at EveryLibrary.org to their state representative and senator. The CLC has prepared a PDF showing the savings the agency generates town by town and an Excel document that provides data by legislative district to use in generating individual messages to deliver by phone or mail. Those looking for an individual library’s savings can email members@ctlibrarians.org. CLC’s Advocacy Toolkit provides information on how to contact state legislators and how CLC benefits libraries and communities; the CLA Advocacy webpage offers tips on making the case for Connecticut library funding in general.

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