With less funding and increased costs, Missouri libraries face a major challenge.
Libraries across the state are already experiencing funding cuts, which could potentially worsen with Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed budget for 2016 that includes nearly $6 million less in funds, or an estimated 80 percent reduction, for libraries statewide.
The governor’s decision to withhold state aid for libraries is currently creating a revenue shortfall for Mid-Continent Public Library of about $400,000, said Mid-Continent President and CEO Steve Potter. With Nixon’s proposed budget for next year, the shortfall could be as much as another $200,000.
The Kansas City Public Library, with branches in western Independence and Sugar Creek, could experience a $100,000 hit –or the equivalent of a couple librarian salaries – with the proposed budget, said Executive Director R. Crosby Kemper III.
Missouri Library Association President Christina Prucha reported libraries located in cities with populations of 40,000 or above have not received state aid, and those under that population have received very little aid.
These withholdings and potential cuts impact other library-related services and programs, such as MOREnet (Missouri Research and Education Network), which provides Internet access and databases to schools, libraries and communities. Missouri’s REAL Program, or Remote Electronic Access for Libraries, that helps libraries pay for their Internet connections, could also see costs triple.
Potter says the current withholdings by the governor don't make sense.
“My understanding is that state revenue is 5 percent higher than last year,” he said. “If the governor and Legislature are required to pass a balanced budget, and revenues are ahead of last year, then the governor doesn’t have a legitimate reason to withhold, in my opinion.”
Nevertheless, Mid-Continent is getting by due to “tightening its belts.” But it’s also bracing itself for the possibility of even less funding.
Another concern Potter has about the budget cuts are their impact on federal appropriations through The Library Services and Technology Act. This federal program, exclusively for libraries, supports some services and programs, like promotional materials for Mid-Continent’s Summer Reading Program, a trial mobile computer program currently underway at Mid-Continent, an international inter-library loan system, as well as subsidizing the REAL program. The LSTA requires state levels to demonstrate constant funding for some of the programs it supports – or in other words, matches funds every other year for the said services and programs.
“Missouri libraries will suffer because of this.”
A possible solution to alleviate this funding crisis is the state’s Non-Resident Professional Athletes and Entertainers Tax, said Potter. It is a tax on the earnings of professional athletes and entertainers when playing or performing in the state, and some of it is used to purchase books and other materials for libraries.
“Ten percent should go to libraries, as I recall,” said Potter on the tax.
However, he explained a provision of the law that stipulates all state expenditures are subject to appropriations. Translation: Libraries are not going to get that source of revenue, and haven’t for quite awhile.
Both Kemper and Potter mentioned the proposed budget’s increase in funding for early childhood education programs.
“Libraries are in the best position to provide a place for early childhood, regardless of your financial background,” Potter said.
The two also maintain the budget cut is strictly a non-partisan issue. Kemper pointed out that previous Republican governors have supported libraries in the past. He said it’s “very surprising” how Nixon is currently handling funding for libraries.
Kemper and Potter urge the public to contact their local state representative on the library funding issue.
“I oppose these cuts,” wrote State Sen. Paul LeVota. “It is my hope to add that money back to the budget through the legislative process. These libraries serve an important education function in our community. We need to fund this priority.”