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Assembly Budget Subcommittee Hears Library Funding Issues
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May 10, 2012

FROM:            Mike Dillon, CLA Lobbyist
                        Christina DiCaro, CLA Lobbyist
RE:                 News From the Capitol
“This needs to be an investment we take more seriously.”
Late yesterday afternoon, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance met to discuss the State Budget as it pertains to the State Library, and specifically the Budget’s impacts on the California Library Services Act, the Public Library Foundation, and the state literacy program.   Members of the Budget Subcommittee were vocal in their displeasure with the complete and total elimination of all state funding for public libraries in the Budget, as well as the imminent threat of the loss of a significant amount of corresponding federal dollars. State Librarian, Stacey Aldrich noted the challenges that the deep cuts create in having to meet the federal “match” and “maintenance of effort.” She added that the loss of federal funds also means the possible elimination of important programs such as the Braille and Talking Books program, to which Chairwoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) said, “This is very sobering.” 
The library programs enjoyed the support of a group of witnesses who were present to testify on the matter. The immediate Past President of the California Council for the Blind called the elimination of the Braille and Talking Books program, “an emotional issue because it is an access issue…This is our window to the world.” Mike Dillon, representing CLA, explained how the proposed cuts would essentially dissolve participation in the collaborative regional system, creating instead a library system of “haves and have nots.” He questioned if there were any other area where “the state gets more bang for its buck for such a small amount of money,” and yet one that has been cut so deeply? Patty Wong, the Yolo County Library Director and member of the CLA Legislative Committee testified that many Californians will be disenfranchised if access is denied to non-resident users, when there is no modest financial incentive between libraries to share resources. 
Laura Seaholm, representing “Project Second Chance,” which is Contra Costa County Library’s adult literacy program, noted that many literacy programs are hanging on by a thread as state funds have been frozen, and she added that in many communities, the library is the only source for literacy assistance and learning.   The subcommittee paid particular attention to an adult literacy learner from Roseville, Tracy Azvedo, who called the challenge of illiteracy “a disability,” and he recounted stories from his years in school, when his mother paid his older brother to do his homework, so that his teachers would think he completed his own work. He proudly noted that he had “never had ‘A’s’ in my life, and now I get ‘A’s’ on my spelling tests at the library.” Similarly compelling, Tracy’s tutor, Stephanie Doran called her adult learner, “willing and eager beyond my ability to convey. His life and his whole world have come alive. Prior to this program, he lived his life as a bystander to his life.” 
Lastly, Robert Miller, representing the Internet Archive, said that in terms of preserving access and supporting libraries, “we are at a precipice.” Much of the preservation and digitization of materials at the State Library is made possible with federal dollars.  Robert noted some of the unique collections such as reports from the human rights commission and epidemiology journals, that could be lost if the state doesn’t continue to remain “innovative and competitive.” 
Assemblyman Sandre Swanson (D-Oakland), a long-standing member of the subcommittee said, “This is the 6th year of issues with the libraries and I shudder to think of the opportunities lost because of our lack of investment with our libraries.  In the scheme of our multi-billion Budget, this is not a lot of money. But the consequences are that we cut, and then lose additional federal dollars. This is nothing less than a move backward. I hope we can come to our senses on this. We are going to have to figure out a way to prioritize.” Assemblyman Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) added, “I agree.”
Assemblywoman Bonilla then engaged in a series of questions with the Department of Finance, asking them to justify the large cuts to the libraries: “Please explain the rationale of walking away from federal dollars?” The Department of Finance representative responded, “While we support the programs, it is just that discretionary dollars are at such a premium.” Chairwoman Bonilla then said, “That doesn’t explain to me the risk of losing federal dollars. Frankly, there is no debate about the value of the programs on human lives, but also there is a state interest in this. The data is endless on the high cost of illiteracy. We need to take a smart journey here. We need to give the people of California the tools they need to be productive.   All of the programs are very compelling, but I don’t understand cutting to the bone. This isn’t cutting with a proportionate share – this is ‘you are gone!’” 
When the DOF mentioned that the elimination of the funding for libraries was because it had been contingent on the pulling of the so-called “Budget trigger,” Chairwoman Bonilla said, “Well, the lesson here is let’s be aware of triggers and fully vet them because there are real consequences. This is the elimination of very important programs. We can go back and forth on this, DOF, but this one doesn’t make sense to me.” Assemblyman Swanson concurred, “Each cut is not the same and each cut doesn’t have federal dollars associated with it. For many, libraries are a gathering place away from violent alternatives and gives them productive time, and things like access to educational videos. The library is serving as an important community center. We need to work a little harder on the dollars….This needs to be an investment that we take more seriously.” 
Chairwoman Bonilla announced that the subcommittee would “leave the item open,” to allow for a further review of the issue after the Governor releases his “May Revision” of the State Budget on Monday. The “May Revise” as it is also known, will reflect the latest state cash figures and will include adjustments that the Governor wants to make since he released his Budget in January.    Said Assemblywoman Bonilla of the library funding, “I implore the DOF to find creative ways to meet this need in our state….Don’t do something irreversible…This one merits a second look.”
Next Monday we will be sending out a memo to CLA members and library supporters regarding the details of the Governor’s May Revise, and at that time, we will also provide you with contact information and instructions regarding the next phase of letter writing. 

Thank you to all who testified during the past two weeks in subcommittee, and thank you to the Senate and Assembly Subcommittees for their supportive comments.