Winter 2001

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Legislative Update

By Parry D. Teasdale, NYSALB Trustee and Legislative Chair

Winter 2001 issue of Trustee

Finally! The state legislature and the governor have agreed on how to spend the $5 million approved for one-time library funding in the current state budget. But a much bigger pot of money is on the table for the upcoming budget; and if trustees weigh in with strong support for this major, new package, there's a real chance libraries statewide could see an increase next year and into the future of nearly 20 times the amount allocated this year.

A full $3 million of the current $5 million funding will go to public and school library systems. An additional million is earmarked for enhancing school library automation technologies, according to an email release from Assemblywoman Naomi Matusow, head of the Assembly committee on libraries and educational technology. The remaining million will help pay for library construction. That last amount may not seem like much in a state where the documented need for library construction is pegged at $800 million, but the new money more than doubles what's currently available. State money for construction is usually a 50% match at best, meaning trustees of libraries receiving state money must come up with the balance. As of mid-November, the State Library was still trying to work out the final details of exactly how and when the money will be distributed.

Meanwhile, the $95 million New Century Libraries (or something like that) proposal from the Regents has already been sent to Governor Pataki with a request that he include the amount in his budget message to the legislature in January. Both houses of the legislature have also received copies with similar requests for inclusion on their funding priority lists.

The $95 million package includes $20 million for public library construction needs next year (with increased amounts in future years), plus a first step toward direct state aid to public libraries. The proposal comes directly from the Regents Commission on Library Services, which finished its work earlier this year with the release of a report based on 10 recommendations for improving library service to all New Yorkers.

Cynics might dismiss such a proposal as pie in the sky given how little libraries have received from the state in recent years. But several aspects mark the $95 million proposal as different from the funding pleas of the recent past. First, the commission's recommendations were based on solid research and a public, non-partisan process that drew significant attention statewide. That high visibility has helped sustain interest in library service, especially in Albany. Second, the Regents have really thrown their weight behind this plan, and lots of individuals are at work trying to bring together partnerships of businesspeople, educators, the media and the library community to lobby for the plan with the state's political leadership.

That's where trustees come in. We really need to make an effort to see that the governor includes the $95 million in his proposed budget. If he ups the ante at the outset of the budget season, it's more likely the legislature will take up the proposal in earnest. You should write Governor George E. Pataki a letter of support NOW! By January, it's too late; all the decisions have been made. And ask others in the community school board members, business and civic leaders, local politicians—to do the same. Your system has the details of the Regents proposal, but just mentioning that magic $95 million figure is enough; budget officials in Albany will know what you're talking about.

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