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Assembly Budget Subcommittee Approves Public Library Broadband Funding
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April 24, 2014
FROM: Mike Dillon, CLA Lobbyist
Christina DiCaro, CLA Lobbyist
RE: News From the Capitol
Early last night the Assembly Budget Subcommittee Number 2 on Education Finance held a hearing to discuss several of the Governor’s 2014-15 Budget proposals, including his plan to connect all public libraries to a statewide, broadband backbone, operated by the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC).  We are pleased to report that the subcommittee, Chaired by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), approved the Governor’s proposal and they closed the hearing by offering positive, encouraging, and thoughtful comments in support of public libraries.
At the hearing, the Department of Finance representative gave some brief opening remarks about the proposal and acknowledged the benefit of the data obtained through the Needs Assessment conducted by the State Library during the Fall.  The committee consultant had also written an excellent background paper, explaining the Governor’s broadband plan in detail.
Greg Lucas, the newly appointed State Librarian testified that he had recently had the pleasure of touring the libraries in the districts of Chairman Muratsuchi and Subcommittee member, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, and saw firsthand “what this proposal can do for libraries.”  The State Library’s Gerry Maginnity testified about the “strong, resounding need” for better broadband opportunities for public libraries and praised the overwhelming participation from jurisdictions and branches during the State Library Needs Assessment. He also noted to the committee that what the libraries are really in need of is the “strength of a consortia” like CENIC.  Jarrid Keller, Chief Information Officer for the State Library called libraries the “great equalizer” and said that the benefits of joining a consortia would allow public libraries to buy circuits at a bulk purchase rate, and allow CENIC to handle their eRate application and processing, which is “very labor intensive.”  Addressing one of the concerns raised by the Legislative Analyst’s Office regarding “last mile” challenges, Mr. Keller stated, “Last mile is a national issue.  We all have this [problem].”  He noted that he was on a panel last week, testifying in Washington D.C. and one of the panelists said that one of the best ways to address last mile challenges was “through a consortia model.”  
Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) was interested in learning more about the current pilot project involving CENIC and the Peninsula Library System, so the Director of the Pacific Library Partnership, and CLA representative, Linda Crowe was present to answer his questions about the roll-out, savings, etc.  Assemblyman Rocky Chavez asked a series of questions regarding when CENIC was formed and he asked CENIC CEO, Louis Fox to describe their business model and how many groups are served by their service.  Mr. Fox called it the “most sophisticated backbone in the world” and later added that he had “worked on many state networks and was surprised to see that libraries were not a part of CENIC” when he arrived in California.
Mike Dillon testified in support of the Governor’s proposal, and thanked the Governor and Director of Finance, Michael Cohen for their vision in recognizing how transformative the broadband proposal could be for public libraries.  Mike said that the proposal was modest in its price, but would make a significant difference regarding service.  He added that libraries have seen their state share of funding cut substantially over the last decade, and that $2.25 million to join the network and an additional $1 million in one-time funding to provide assistance to libraries who may have trouble joining the network, was a very reasonable ask.  Patrick Perry, the Vice Chancellor of the Community Colleges and the Vice President of CENIC said he looked forward to welcoming the libraries on to the shared network and he stressed that “the quality of service has been very good for us.  As a non-profit, they are looking out for the educational needs of the [participants].”  He added that he felt the addition of public libraries would be a very “synergistic relationship.”  Finally, a representative from the Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s office said that the Governor’s project was “an important investment,” particularly because libraries are a “place students go when they have no computer access at home.”   Of note, throughout the deliberations, the Legislative Analyst’s Office expressed sustained opposition to the Governor’s proposal.      
Chairman Muratsuchi stated, “While the [Analyst] raises some legitimate concerns, I agree with the Governor and the libraries.  What Mr. Dillon mentioned about the overall state reduction for libraries and this modest adjustment of libraries – I think it’s a real game changer for libraries.  It’s a great investment.  It seems to address a clear need.  Even if we don’t connect all of the libraries, we will reach a substantial amount.  This seems to be working for the UC, CSU systems, etc. and they have a strong commitment to the ‘last mile.’”  Assemblyman Muratsuchi said that the subcommittee was requesting some additional reporting language to get some annual data on how many libraries will have joined the network, monitor cost savings, determine how the $1 million in grant money is used, etc.
At the beginning of the hearing, Chairman Muratsuchi noted that Assemblyman Dababneh was absent and the Assembly Budget Chair, Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) would be the designated replacement.  After the committee voted 3-0 (Muratsuchi, Ting, Skinner) to support the Governor’s proposal, Assemblywoman Skinner made an eloquent closing statement on behalf of the project.  She said, “I support this item strongly.  We are loathe to discuss the restoration of funding in this building, but the cuts to libraries have been particularly troubling.  There’s an attitude that we don’t need libraries because everyone has a computer, yet we know a good percentage of the public doesn’t have access.  Libraries are still a very important place to get information and assistance.  They are such an essential function.  Growing up, they were such a refuge for me.  The libraries saved my life.  I lived in a house with 11 people and the library was the only place to do homework.”  
The Governor’s broadband plan will now be heard in the Senate Budget Subcommittee Number 1 on Education Finance next Tuesday, April 29.
We would like to thank those of you who met with the members of the two Budget Subcommittees over the last few months and weeks.  We were very pleased when we sat down with your legislators during our lobbying efforts when they said, “My library folks were just in to see me in my district to talk about this issue.”  Your personal experiences and stories were very beneficial in helping us to have a successful hearing yesterday.