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Fiscal Focus: Libraries

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Each Fiscal Focus will look at our vision for key areas of public investment in Ohio and provide insight into current budgetary trends for that sector. AllOhioans are impacted by our elected officials’ budget decisions. In 2013, a new two-year state budget will be crafted – this series will provide a comprehensive overview of the major questions and concerns for Ohio’s 2014-15 biennial budget.


“Free libraries maintained by the people are cradles of democracy, and their spread can never fail to extend and strengthen the democratic                                                                     idea, the equality of the citizen and the royalty of man. They are                                                                                     emphatically  fruits of the true American ideal.”                                                           Andrew Carnegie ,1903 dedication of the Carnegie Library, Washington, D.C.

Why the Public Should Invest Ohioans love our libraries. 86% of Ohioans utilize our library systems each year and 88% of Ohioans ranked their library service as good or excellent. The Columbus and Cuyahoga County systems are consistently ranked as the top two library systems in the country. Our libraries do more than just book and video lending.  They also provide literacy programs for all ages, open meeting space, and crucial Internet access for those trying to find jobs or complete homework without home Internet access. Many individuals in need of public assistance often turn to their libraries first when they don’t know where else to go.

The Current Reality Ohioans support the public investment of 251 public library systems with over 700 branches in the state. Ohioans demonstrated this support in November by passing all local property tax levies for libraries! Despite this public support, state support has been cut by almost 25% since 2007. Between 2001-2010, local property taxes have doubled for libraries.  However, property taxes cannot make up for stable state investment, because 80 (32%) public library systems have no local levy revenue and are almost entirely reliant upon the Public Library Fund for their operations.

Ohio public libraries receive their state support through the Public Library Fund (PLF).  In 2012, the state spent $344 million compared to 2001 when the state spent $496.5 million through the PLF. Libraries have responded to these budget cuts by cutting jobs.  In less than a decade, full-time staff has been reduced by 20%. We have already seen hours and services cut in local communities, and many branches are scheduled to close in 2013.

The 2014-15 Budget To understand the current budget struggles of the PLF, we need a little history to explain how we arrived where we are. Like many programs, consistent state cuts have left the libraries in a situation where the status quo cannot be maintained and funding must be restored. The PLF is a set formula as a percentage of the General Revenue Fund.

In calendar year 2008, the PLF was set to be 2.22% of total General Revenue Fund (GRF) tax revenues.  When the legislator debated the budget that went into effect in July of 2009, they decided to reduce the amount to 1.97%.  The current budget that began in July of 2011 allocates 95% of those previous levels.  Also, in our current budget the library fund was expected to do more by funding other related programs such as the Library for the Blind and a technology fund.  These are worthwhile investments, but we must recognize that a shrinking pot of money is now expected to do more. Now in our upcoming budget debate, the fund will likely be set at 95% again, which will be 1.87% of the GRF.  Further cuts the to GRF will continue to hurt our library investment.

The GRF receives 44% of its revenue from the Ohio income tax. Any cuts to the income tax rate will reduce the GRF and therefore reduce the Public Library Fund.  In 2005, the legislature passed a tax ‘reform’ package that has reduced the income tax by 21%.  The income tax cut and other reforms cost Ohio $2.5billion a year. This lost revenue could have been invested in preventing cuts to hours, after-school programs, literacy efforts and other valuable public services in which all Ohioans benefit.

Speak Up! If you would like to get involved as the state budget nears and our advocacy increases, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or sign up for our emails. Please read our past Fiscal Focus articles on K-12 education, state parks, mental health, senior services, or privatization.

If you’re interested in additional information on state parks in the state budget or have any other related question, please contact us.

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