February 16, 2018

KY Governor’s Budget Would Eliminate Library Funds

Kentucky State Capitol at Frankfort
Photo credit: Seifler via Wikimedia Commons

Library Legislative Day in Kentucky on February 15 will give directors and advocates their first real chance to push back against Gov. Matt Bevin’s recent FY18–20 budget proposal, which seeks to eliminate every penny of the $2.5 million currently earmarked for direct state aid to libraries.

Kentucky’s FY17–18 budget contains $2,534,460 for state aid to libraries, just slightly less than the $2,534,500 projected for FY18–19 by Mark Adler, chairman of the Kentucky Public Libraries Association. Under Bevin’s plan, that money would be eliminated, along with funding for 69 other programs, among them a variety of existing health and education initiatives.

Library officials’ annual trek to Frankfort to meet with and lobby legislators takes on greater significance during the biennial budget years. But Bevin’s call to zero out direct state aid has upped the stakes considerably. In his January 16 budget message, the governor cited a litany of fiscal challenges Kentucky faces, topped by a severely underfunded pension system.

At first glance, Bevin’s budget plan looks like a worst-case scenario for the state’s smallest public libraries. Each of Kentucky’s 120 county systems—some huge and others consisting of a single branch in a rural community—receive state aid. Three libraries—Ballard-Carlisle County Public Library in Wickliffe, Elliott County Public Library in Sandy Hook, and Hickman County Memorial Library in Clinton—depend on that money for 80 percent or more of their operating budgets. But none of them are preparing to close up shop quite yet.

Practically speaking, the budget Bevin unveiled amounts to little more than a wish list. It’s nonbinding and designed merely to establish the governor’s spending priorities before the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate get to work on the months-long budget process. Each house of the general assembly will pass a budget before hammering out a final compromise through a joint conference. The current fiscal year ends June 1.

“Obviously things are pretty early in the game,” said Adler. “The legislative session just started fairly recently.… Generally, what we see is that proposals from the governor are not accepted carte blanche and everything is open for discussion.”

A statement from Woody Maglinger, the governor’s press secretary, seemed to offer some room for compromise as the budget making process unfolds.

“Gov. Bevin has worked closely with Cabinet leadership and the State Budget Office over many months to prepare 2018–20 budget recommendations,” Maglinger said. “With significant fiscal pressures exerted by the crippling pension burden and other escalating costs, tough decisions had to be made. The Commonwealth simply cannot spend money that it does not have. After a thorough review of state programs, the Governor’s budget proposal identified programs that should not be automatically perpetuated without a long-overdue analysis of their effectiveness during the legislative process.”

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

Adler is director of the Paris–Bourbon County Public Library, a single-branch system that operates a large facility in the city of Paris. It relies on state aid for only 1.3 percent of its total budget. “But 1.3 percent of our budget is still a lot of books or a lot of videos or a lot of programs,” Adler said. “When you strip that out, it certainly represents a loss of funds that we have always anticipated would be there.”

Budget cuts won’t be the only agenda item library directors will address during their meetings with individual state representatives in Frankfort. But the visitors will certainly have their say on that matter, library officials told LJ.

“State aid is the main point,” said Lois Schulz, president of the nonprofit Friends of Kentucky Libraries, which plays a large role in organizing and developing talking points for Library Legislative Day. Most of the Friends and will wear yellow in Frankfort as a symbol of unity, as well as any other visitor who wants to take part and show solidarity.

Tara Griffith, president of the Kentucky Library Association (KLA), said, “It’s in times like these where strength in numbers is what we hope comes through for us.” She said it’s vital for library directors to “to give that personal story” to lawmakers about how such severe cuts “will affect them, their family, their work, their community as a whole.”

Griffith expressed dismay that academic, school and special libraries—all of which fall under KLA’s auspices—would also see a dramatic loss in services if the legislature ends up rubber-stamping cuts to all 70 of the programs targeted by the governor. “Our goal is to keep all libraries statewide funded at the current levels,” she said.

DEPENDENT ON STATE AID

State law KRS 171.201 provides for a Public Library Services Improvement and Equalization Fund and uses a formula to determine how much county library systems can receive.

To begin with, each library system gets a lump sum grant: $9,000 for counties with a population of 22,000 or fewer, $8,000 for counties with a population between 22,001 and 45,000, and $7,000 for counties with more than 45,000 residents. The remaining aid is doled out at a rate of 73 cents per capita, to be used for a wide variety of purposes at the discretion of each library system.

The 2018–20 Executive Budget Recommendation posted online includes this notation: “Notwithstanding KRS 171.201, the Executive Budget provides no funding for non-construction state aid to local libraries.”

The vast majority of Kentucky libraries rely on tax revenue to fund the bulk of their operations. State aid is usually a smaller, but not insignificant, piece of their budget, Adler said. But for the 20 or so small county systems that aren’t part of a library taxing district, state aid is the only thing between them and serious financial hardship.

Ballard–Carlisle County Public Library in Wickliffe, located on the state’s western edge, is the most pronounced example of a county system that depends on state aid. The library is open just two days a week, and director Mary Silgals is an unpaid volunteer. She operates the facility on a budget of about $30,000 annually, she told LJ, with 94.4 percent of that supplied from state aid.

Silgals declined to comment specifically on Bevin’s budget proposal, but she said there’s enough money banked by the county to fund operations for one full year in the event all state aid is eliminated.

A retired library professional, Silgals won’t be attending Library Legislative Day, but she said two directors from nearby county systems plan on going and have pledged to lobby on Ballard–Carlisle’s behalf when they meet with their representatives.

Hickman County Memorial Library in Clinton, which gets no funding from library taxes, depends on state aid for 82.5 percent of its total budget. Asked to comment on Bevin’s budget plan, director Laura Edwards Poole, said, “So far this is just a proposal and all the library directors are watching closely and paying attention to information we receive from Frankfort.” She declined further comment.

Adler, for his part, refused to play the alarmist. He cautioned that lawmakers, with one eye on their own future reelection concerns, would be hesitant to completely turn their backs on libraries.

“If we get closer toward the end of the session and the budget talks are going on and this is still in the budget, then certainly I’ll start to get a little bit more concerned,” he added. “But I would be very surprised, as popular as libraries are in their counties, to see that [these cuts] would stay in there.”

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Comments

  1. Joyce LaGodney says:

    Our learning scores are going away, not having libraries wherever they are now, would be even worse

  2. Wanda Davis says:

    We need our libraries for our children and adults to learn. Receive help by.looking up resources hands on.I love our library and it’s a shame for our government would put money before learning.

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