Ohio Senate Restores Library Budget

Ohio libraries tend to be well funded, both locally and via a solid base of state government support. This year, however, they found themselves forced to advocate for the portion of their funding administered by the Ohio Public Library Fund, which distributes a percentage of the state’s income and sales tax receipts among the state’s 251 public library systems.

exterior of Ohio Statehouse
Ohio Statehouse, Columbus
Photo by James St. John via Flickr

Ohio libraries tend to be well funded, both locally and via a solid base of state government support. This year, however, they found themselves forced to advocate for the portion of their funding administered by the Ohio Public Library Fund (PLF), which distributes a percentage of the state’s income and sales tax receipts among the state’s 251 public library systems. In May, the state House’s proposal for the FY22–23 state budget approved a cut to the PLF’s allocation from 1.7 percent of the General Revenue Fund to 1.66 percent. Ohio libraries received a reprieve on June 1, however, when the state Senate voted to restore PLF funding to its previous levels—but their work is not yet done.

Before the new budget goes into effect on July 1, it will move to the Conference Committee, where the House and Senate will work out the differences in their respective bills; from there, it goes to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk for approval. “And now that we got the provision in there,” said Michelle Francis, executive director of the Ohio Library Council, “we need to make sure it stays.”

While one third of a percent looks like a small reduction at first glance, it would cut library revenues across the state by an estimated $22 million over two years—from $893 million to $871 million. The PLF makes up 48 percent of the total funding for Ohio’s public libraries, and while every public library measure on local ballots passed in the May 5 elections, for the 20 percent of the state’s libraries without a local tax levy, money from the PLF constitutes their entire budget.

 

NEEDS MAY EXCEED PREDICTIONS

The past year, noted Francis, has been a fiscal rollercoaster. Before the end of 2020, Ohio had anticipated across-the-board cuts because of statewide revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic. As stimulus packages such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) and American Rescue Plan (ARPA) acts were passed at the federal level, spending increased. And thanks to the 2019 Wayfair ruling, Ohio can collect sales tax from out-of-state vendors—a major revenue benefit during a year of skyrocketing online sales.

When the governor’s office put together its original budget proposal in December 2020, DeWine stated that strong state revenues meant that libraries would still get the funding they needed even if PLF percentages were rolled back to earlier levels. (Although 1.66 percent of state revenue is permanently provided for by law, in recent years the Ohio General Assembly increased the PLF allocation to current levels—not only a vote of confidence, noted Francis, but affirmation of the estimate that for every dollar spent by Ohio’s libraries there is a five dollar return on investment in economic value to the state’s taxpayers.)

“Because libraries and local governments receive a percentage of the state’s tax revenues and are not limited to a specific state appropriation,” the governor’s message stated, “and because overall, state tax revenues are increasing and projected to continue to increase in the upcoming budget biennium as a result of Governor DeWine’s decisive actions to address the pandemic and the economy, the total dollars projected for the Public Library Fund will increase each year. As state revenues continue to rebound, libraries will share in the increase.”

But when the Ohio Library Council looked at the state funding libraries received over the past seven years, the PLF distribution met the amount estimated by the Ohio Department of Budget Management only once. And now, as the state moves away from pandemic restrictions, the new and continuing needs libraries are serving require a steady source of funding, Francis said. “There are too many unknowns in this economy going forward. Yes, there are stimulus packages now, but there may not always be, and we have a concern about that. We need some form of stability going forward.”

In addition to helping job seekers and children who need to overcome the educational gaps of the past year and a half, she noted, libraries are planning dedicated space for telehealth services, Zoom meeting rooms, and outdoor programming. Services such as curbside pickup that were started because of the pandemic will continue even after all libraries are open to the public. “So as our libraries evolve, and as their services evolve, this funding is going to go to pay for that.”

 

KEEPING THE ADVOCACY GOING

After the House’s budget bill, H.B. 110, was finalized in May, library directors from across the state began submitting testimony to the Senate Finance Committee requesting that it restore the PLF to previous levels, and advocates from every corner stepped up to tell their library stories. The Ohio Library Council collected news coverage on a central webpage, using everything in its advocacy arsenal from articles about the budget process to human interest stories such as the man who set up his laptop on a card table outside one library after hours, so he could use its Wi-Fi to take an online course. Even small-scale anecdotes have the power to reach elected officials and media outlets, noted Francis.

“Over the past couple of months, our members have been absolutely amazing,” she told LJ. “They have contacted their legislators, they have talked with local media outlets, they have written op eds, they have told their story of what they have done over the past year and what they’re going to continue to do if they have the resources as we come out of this pandemic.”

The state Senate has shown strong support for libraries in the past, Francis added, and she hopes that backing continues. “There are several key legislators who are strong public library champions,” said Francis. “We appreciate their support and them making public libraries a priority in this budget bill, because there are hundreds of issues”—the legislation runs to more than 2,900 pages.

“Even though we we’re not quite across the finish line, we’re almost there,” said Francis. “We’re just hoping that the House, the Senate, and the governor decide to keep this provision in the bill.”

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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