Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why should libraries be exempt from cuts?

They shouldn't - not really.

In today's economic environment and record deficits by our governments (federal, state, county, municipality), there is no entity or recipient of taxpayer dollars that should be exempt from reductions.

Despite all the doom and gloom predictions if government doesn't keep spending at the same - or even higher - levels, the world will not end. In our own families, we're setting priorities and making decisions about where and how we spend our limited dollars. We are cutting out many things in order to ensure that the essentials are covered.

Government should be no different.

First, the solution from so many who are opposed to cuts is that taxes should be raised - if they say anything at all. Most are just saying 'don't cut MY pet program' and are pretty silent when it comes to answering the question of where cuts should come from if their program's funding remains the same. When they do suggest a solution, it is to raise taxes so nothing needs to be cut.

Of course, those of us who are paying those taxes are finding our funds reduced as well, so taking more from people who really have nothing left just compounds the problem - it does not solve it. And the detrimental impacts of additional taxes are severe and long-term (think of loss of population and businesses...).

Second, there is no reason that any program or project should be sacrosanct when it comes to 'helping' the state meet its budget. I've applauded Gov. Ted Strickland's decisions to reduce the state spending in the past and for his position on not raising taxes. (Though I did take exception to his change of position when he decided that raising fees is not raising taxes despite his prior comments that an increase in fees is an increase in taxes.)

His approach has been to impose across-the-board cuts with lesser priority areas getting larger cuts. Libraries hold no more special position than anything else in government. In fact, they are far less of a priority that certain mandated functions. While library supporters may not like this, it is true and must be considered as part of an overall budget.

Third, there is certainly room in all budgets to make adjustments. The main branch of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Since so much of the library focus is on children (and just what isn't these days when it comes to justifying public funding), there is certainly room to reduce hours, especially during the school year when kids cannot use the library during a normal school day. Additionally, most operations are not open 12 hours a day. Even our malls have reduced their hours of operations - so why not libraries. And if meeting the needs of the public is important, then why not have more weekend hours and close down on one of the week days when most adults are at work?

I am certain that anyone looking closely will find waste and inefficiency in any government operation - and certainly government should streamline itself, either voluntarily or forcibly by taxpayers who refuse to allow increased taxes. Libraries are no exception.

As a side note, I cannot express how angry I am that our library has a huge yellow and black ad that pops up before allowing me access to the library website. The ad tells me that the governor wants to cut funding by 50% and has a link for me to send an email to the legislators. Since our library is publicly funded, and this ad has no disclaimer on it, I can only conclude that tax dollars are being used to campaign for more funds. I know that some legislators want to make it against the law for publicly-funded agencies, etc., to use any of their assets to lobby for more public funding. Maybe they should start with the libraries.

There is one glitch in Strickland's plan to reduce funding, though. When the state decided to change its tax system (which has improved Ohio's rankings on tax-friendly charts), counties and libraries and other entities who received 'Local Government Funds' were found to have huge reductions as a result of the change. At that time, there were agreements reached which would ensure stable levels of funding during the new tax structure phase-in period. So there is some expectation that libraries would not have reductions as a result of the new tax structure.

However, the current circumstances have nothing to do with the change in tax structure and everything to do with the overall economy. The agreement for continued state funding did not anticipate huge state deficits - and why should it, government rarely plans ahead for downturns...

So given the challenges faced by everyone, libraries need to 'share the pain' especially if they also expect to 'share the wealth' when times are better.

2 comments:

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...

Maggie,

As a recently new (again) user of the Library system, I've noticed that they closely mimic the government in they seem to think/feel that they must always be growing and expanding.

Someone should maybe mandate that their top management take a course in economic theory rather than enlarging an already bloated "burrocracy."

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

I love the library, often donate books, and would be willing to make a "charitable contribution" or to pay for a library card to insure their continued existence.

I do not believe however, that they should be in the taxpayer supported business of competing with Blockbuster Video or an Internet Cafe. Perhaps if expenditures for such activities were eliminated, nothing further would need to be done.

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