It’s not uncommon that when local and state governments face budget crises, among the first things to be put on the chopping block are libraries, parks and the arts.
The state Legislature had those areas in its sights two years ago when Texas faced a $27 billion budget shortfall, and now one decision in particular — cutting library appropriations by 67 percent — has come back to take a big bite out of federal funding that supports the state’s local public libraries.
As the Star-Telegram and the online Texas Tribune reported last weekend, federal dollars for local support are dependent on the state demonstrating a “maintenance effort” to ensure that the funds from Washington “supplement” rather than replace state funding.
The fact that the state took such drastic fiscal measures in its 2012-2013 budget may result in a 70 percent reduction in federal funds, down from $10 million to $3 million in 2015. That bad news was related in a letter to the state Library and Archives Commission from the national Institute of Museum and Library Services, which allocates the funding.
Although all libraries potentially could be affected by such a massive reduction, smaller branches will be hurt the most, particularly in collection development, the interlibrary loan program and TexShare Databases.
In Richland Hills, for example, library officials say a major cut in federal subsidies potentially could have an impact on everything they do.
The Arlington library, which has received $75,000 to $125,000 in grants over the last two years, used the federal funds to help pay for literacy programs and to operate a mobile computer lab that provides free computer training and Internet access to areas with inadequate access to public computers and broadband Internet.
Library directors had warned legislators that their decisions might have such an effect if they carried out the budget slashing, but lawmakers ignored that distress signal. The state did restore about 85 percent of the library budget for 2014-2015, but the federal formula for awarding grants is based on a three-year average of state funding.
The decision to cut the federal aid is being appealed by the Library and Archives Commission, which hopes the national agency will grant a waiver for Texas.
While the commission offers a prayer for restoration of federal funds, it should also pray that the Legislature has learned a valuable lesson.