We welcome two new Library trustees this month—Melissa Garrett and Troy Meinhard. Ms. Garrett will complete the five years remaining in her predecessor’s term while Mr. Meinhard will begin a full 7-year term on the Board. Each will be sworn in at the regular meeting on April 13 by School Board Vice President Reuben Harris.
This month finds libraries across the state in the midst of Ohio’s every-two-year budget process. Governor Kasich announced his 719-page proposal, entitled “Blueprint for a New Ohio,” in late January. Also known as HB 64, it covers the period from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2017.
The major changes called for in the budget proposal are those involving tax cuts and tax increases. The Governor proposes to cut the personal income tax by 23% over the next two fiscal years—15% in FY2016 and 8% in FY2017. He also wants to increase the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and the state sales tax by 0.5%. In addition, he is looking at a 6.5% severance tax on oil and gas production.
Public libraries are concerned about any changes in taxes because the source of the statewide Public Library Fund is Ohio’s general tax revenue. While tax cuts would likely reduce that revenue, tax increases could offset those losses; however, with the complexity involved, it creates a great deal of uncertainty.
It is estimated that the proposed budget would see an increase in the PLF of 5.7% in FY2016 and an increase of 3.9% in FY2017, but no one really knows how accurate these numbers are. When the current biennial budget, HB 59, was proposed two years ago, public libraries were told to expect similar increases. However, when the bill eventually passed it included numerous amendments, most of which eliminated certain tax increases.
The results have been disappointing. Each of the first six months of FY2014 (July through December 2013) saw a decrease in actual receipts from the PLF compared to the state’s estimates. And the funding received in 2014 was 2% below what had been received in 2013. This has continued the overall downward trend in Ohio’s state funding for public libraries. The sad fact is that the PLF has declined by 24% since 2007 and by 30% since 2001 and funding in 2014 was the lowest since 1996.
For years the Ohio Library Council has been trying to “stop the bleeding,” but without success. An amendment to increase the PLF was put forward two years ago, but was left out of the final budget that was passed. More recently, OLC has been touting a “Restore the PLF” campaign with the intent of returning the current 1.66% of the state’s general revenue to the original 2.22%. It seems clear now that no such thing will happen.
A recent missive from OLC has asked for support for an amendment from Representative Marlene Anielski (R-Walton Hills) to reset the percentage for the PLF from 1.66% to 1.75%. That would amount to an increase of just under 5.5%. Combined with the estimated 5.7% and assuming no unexpected decline in state revenues, the PLF would still barely be above the 1997 level!
Any increase is better than a decrease, but none of this accounts for the dollars lost through inflation. Library Legislative Day in Columbus is April 28. It should be an interesting event!
Luren E. Dickinson, Director