June 5, 2013
TO: CLA MEMBERS/ SYSTEMS/ NETWORK CONTACTS
FROM: Mike Dillon, CLA Lobbyist
Christina DiCaro, CLA Lobbyist
RE: NEWS FROM THE CAPITOL
BUDGET CONFERENCE COMMITTEE APPROVES LIBRARY FUNDING
$3 million is approved for major broadband project and literacy
On Wednesday the eight-member Budget Conference Committee in the State Legislature approved CLA’s Budget request to fund the potential connection of each public library outlet to a statewide, high-speed, broadband “backbone.” The funding will begin the first phase of implementation to bring public libraries on to the backbone, which is managed by the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (or “CENIC”). CENIC also manages the “backbone” for the K-12 system, UC, CSU, and the community colleges.
As you will recall from our recent reports, the Assembly Budget Committee approved $5 million, with the intent to use: $2.25 million of that amount to connect to the CENIC backbone, $2 million for grants that would go to the unserved and underserved libraries who need assistance (circuits) in connecting to the backbone, and $750,000 for adult literacy programs. The Senate Budget Committee approved $2.5 million which was intended to connect libraries to the backbone, but they provided no money for grants or literacy.
The role of the powerful two-house Budget Conference Committee is to reconcile the differences between the Governor’s version of the state Budget, the Assembly version and the Senate version. The Budget Conference Committee essentially could have adopted the higher of the two numbers (the Assembly version), the lower of the two numbers (the Senate version), or forge a compromise between the two.
As you have been reading from our reports, we have been actively lobbying this issue since February, when CENIC approached the CLA leadership about the possibility of developing this “game changing” opportunity, benefitting all public libraries. In our advocacy messages to legislators, we consistently noted that the libraries are reporting record attendance, and with the pressures that will be placed upon them with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and people needing to research and apply for healthcare online, as well as a new program the Governor is supporting for K-12 students, called the “Common Core Standards,” which will require students to use technology for testing and practicing their testing – the pressure on broadband capacity at libraries will be at an all-time high. The State Library has produced a document indicating that 40% of the State’s public libraries are operating on slower speeds than what would be found in most households.
We have left no stone unturned in our attempt to get funding for the CENIC proposal as well as the literacy funding, lobbying everyone from the Department of Finance, to the Governor’s office, the Senate President pro Tem’s representatives, the Assembly Speaker’s office, countless legislators and staff, and the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Thus, we were pleased today when the Conference Committee voted around 4:00 p.m. to approve a “Conference Compromise,” to fund $2.25 million for the connection to CENIC and $750,000 for the adult literacy program. The Committee also approved compromise Budget bill language, recommended by the Legislative Analyst’s Office which will require the State Library to conduct a needs assessment of all of the libraries to determine current connectivity needs. The Conferees felt that this step needed to occur before they could support funding for the grants for circuits down the road.
Speaking in favor of the plan to connect libraries to CENIC, Senator Loni Hancock said, “This is a very important item, particularly if you have ever seen students lined up at the library waiting to get in. It is an essential piece of getting an education and something the state could do to benefit all.” The $2.25 million was approved on a bi-partisan unanimous vote of all 8 of the members. During the discussion about the literacy piece, the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst’s Office said they did not support the $750,000 proposal, but Senator Kevin De Leon said that he wanted to support the augmentation because a large percentage of individuals who were formerly incarcerated leave prison functionally illiterate. “This is a basic fundamental to help them survive and I think this is important.” Chairman Senator Mark Leno said, “Illiteracy does have ramifications in public safety, and promoting literacy keeps communities safer.” Senator Bill Emmerson said, “I like the volunteer aspect of the literacy program and I would like to see more of that in the schools too.” Senator Hancock who Chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee said, “Literacy services are a real tool for counties to use in realignment.” Approval of $750,000 for adult literacy was approved on a unanimous vote.
Lastly, during discussions of the funding for the grants for circuits and hardware necessary to join the broadband backbone, the Legislative Analyst’s Office stressed the need to “wait a year until the needs assessment has concluded.” Vice Chair, Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield tried to push for the $2 million in grants, saying, “The Assembly thinks this is important to have this technology.” Senator Hancock said, “Why don’t we move the Senate version (no dollars) and come back with the report regarding the need for funds and how we are doing with the funds we did approve and then look at next steps.” Assemblyman Blumenfield said, “We’ll accept that but we are very interested and we want to get this critical funding as soon as possible.” Senator Leno agreed and said, “And I hope you heard no disagreement on that from the Senate.”
Lastly, the addition of $3 million in new money this year also importantly helps with California’s federal match, which funds significant programs such as the Braille and Talking Books program, etc.
The Budget Conference Committee will be working this week and next week to attempt to complete their business, and in the meanwhile, the Democratic leadership in both houses will be meeting with the Governor to try to reach a consensus on some major, outstanding issues. The legislature will be endeavoring to get a Budget down to the Governor for his signature by the June 15th constitutional deadline. We will keep you updated as the Budget package advances.