Ohio public libraries are pressuring lawmakers to keep funding levels steady and reject a plan to tweak a funding formula that delivers nearly half of all the money used to operate 251 library systems across the state.
On the surface, it doesn’t seem like much – shaving state funding for the Public Library Fund from 1.7% to 1.66% of Ohio’s general revenue fund – but it would amount to a $22 million hit over two years, according to the Ohio Library Council. Data on how that $22 million would fall on each library system was not available, but the Columbus Metropolitan Library estimates it would see a $1.5 million cut over two years.
The council and five of the state’s largest library systems testified this week against the proposed funding cut. If lawmakers trim the libraries’ share of the local government fund to 1.66%, libraries estimate they’ll receive $871 million over two years. But if it’s set atthe current rate of 1.7%, they’ll get $893 million.
Aside from loaning books and materials, libraries are community hubs that provide internet access, homework help, job search assistance, literacy programs, meeting room space and more.
Roughly 48% of all money for Ohio libraries comes from the Public Library Fund and 50 of the 251 library systems rely on it entirely since they don’t have local property tax levies.
OLC Director of Government and Legal Services Jay Smith said he is hopeful lawmakers will reject the proposed cut and stick with the current 1.7% formula.
The libraries have yet to use their strongest political pressure weapon: 8.4 million patrons.
“We haven’t really gone all out and issued a call to action,” Smith said. “Libraries do react quickly when we issue a call to action. I don’t think we need to show up at the Statehouse and jump up and down just yet.”
OLC Director Michelle Francis told lawmakers this week that Ohio public libraries are not in line to receive $170 million in federal funds through the American Rescue Plan. Instead about $200 million in federal money will be spread across libraries nationwide. The State Library of Ohio will receive about $4.5 million to be divided among university and K-12 libraries, prisons libraries and public libraries, she said.
The state budget bill is pending in the Senate Finance Committee. A final version that both the House and Senate agree on is expected to be adopted by June 30. The state fiscal year starts July 1.