New York libraries are facing close to a five percent budget cut with just $81.6 million allocated in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive budget—down from the $85.62 million granted to libraries last year.
New York’s final budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year included $4.07 million added at the last minute by the New York State legislature—that’s still far from the $102.4 million needed to fully fund the state libraries as required by law.
Library supporters say they’re concerned that even if the legislature allocates the $4 million again this year, funding essentially flatlines. Without the additional money, libraries will be forced to make cuts, they say, that would strip them of core necessities.
“What is so upsetting is the Governor did not include the legislative add this year,” says Jeremy Johannesen, executive director of the New York Library Association (NYLA). “Each year we had made incremental process to full funding. Now we’re down $20 million from where we should be.”
Johannesen says many had hoped Cuomo would use the $85.67 million as a new baseline and build from there. Instead, public libraries are forced to begin considering cuts, should Cuomo’s budget pass and the legislature doesn’t step in with additional funds.
“Last year was actually a slight restoration of the budget,” says Steve Bolton, director of the North County Library System, a cooperative of 65 public libraries close to the Canadian border. “It allowed us not to have a deficit budget which we’d had for the past two to three years.”
Bolton says that the library has already done away with some staff, its library materials budget, and small cash grants for branches. Next would be cuts to core services, from classes to delivery of materials.
“This puts us in the position of having to fight for where we are instead of a restoration of where we used to be,” he says.
With the passing of Chapter 917 of the Laws of New York in 1990, libraries were assigned funding formulas based on the resident population, meant to ensure they could continue to provide services across the state. Based on the most recent U.S. Census of 2010, New York libraries should have received $102.4 million for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Gov. Cuomo allocated $81.6 million—a $20.8 million chasm. Calculated with inflation, the budget should actually be $126.5 million, says Johannesen.
“It’s hard not to have the Legislature meet funding that is stipulated by legislative law,” he says.
Cuomo has 21 days after releasing the budget to make changes. That ends in early February. And Johannesen, along with the New York library community, are rallying, with more than 1700 letters penned to Cuomo, and a fresh call to send comments to the Legislature as well.
Johannesen says the last week in February is when the budget renegotiation process really kicks in to play, with each part of the Legislature putting out its own version of the budget and hashing out a final number. Traditionally, library additions have come from the Senate, he says, and so NYLA will focus its energy there before April 1, when the budget is likely to be adopted. Johannesen says he’ll be pushing right up until the last minute.
“Until it’s signed, sealed and delivered, there is always an opportunity for things to change,” he says.