The Impact of Governor Walker’s Budget Proposal on Public LibrariesBy Rick Krumwiede
(published in Trustee Tale, March 2011)
Recently, Governor Walker introduced his 2011-2013 Executive State Budget. The proposed budget contains a number of provisions that are likely to have a significant impact on Wisconsin’s public libraries.
Because public libraries are operated by local government units, the proposed $96 million reduction in county and municipal aid payments, combined with a cap on local levy increases, will make it difficult, if not impossible, for most local governments to continue providing their current levels of service. With all local services being closely scrutinized, libraries will have to compete with other local government services for scarce resources. However, the provisions of the Governor’s proposed budget repair bill are intended to provide local governments with the tools and flexibility they need to deal with the reduction in aid payments. (According to the budget document, the adjustments in aids are aligned with “the ability of local governments to realize savings on employee compensation to offset any potentially negative impact on municipal and county budgets.”)
The Governor’s budget also recommends “eliminating the requirement that municipalities and counties maintain annual local expenditures for public libraries at the average of the prior three years as a condition for being a member of a public library system." Since the establishment of public library systems, the maintenance of effort requirement has protected public libraries from wide fluctuations in local funding. Without this requirement municipalities would be free to make severe cuts in library funding. It should be noted that the Governor’s proposal does not repeal the maintenance of effort requirement for emergency services spending, which might make it even more difficult for libraries to secure sufficient local funding.
At the county level, even without the maintenance of effort requirement, counties would continue to be required to reimburse municipal libraries for 70% of their costs for providing service to people who live outside of communities that operate libraries. Also, county library reimbursements to municipal libraries would remain exempt from levy limits.
Public libraries would also experience cuts in the services provided to them by their systems. The Governor has proposed to decrease public library system aids by 10 percent in the first year of the biennium, with flat funding in the second year. This proposal would reduce state aid to OWLS by $67,501 and state aid to Winnefox by $98,430 in 2012.
The budget proposal also includes a 10% first-year funding reduction for BadgerLink, NewsLine for the Blind, and statewide service contracts with Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library, Wisconsin Library Services (WiLS), Milwaukee Public Library, and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Flat funding is proposed for the second year. The impact of these cuts on local public libraries is not clear at this time.
The proposed budget will go next to the Joint Committee on Finance for consideration before being considered by the full legislature.