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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Library Funding

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 08, 2009

It has now been 10 weeks since the layoffs at the library, and I have made the necessary cuts and adjustments in library hours to continue operations within the new budget numbers.

 

With additional retirements, the library staff has been reduced by 25 percent.

 

Schedule changes have current staff working in new areas with different hours.

 

Having worked in Ohio’s public libraries for 37 years, I can bring a broader perspective to this budget situation than others newer to the profession.

 

Historically, Ohio’s public libraries were formed as departments of city and county governments, school boards, township trustees, or library associations.

 

From the formation of the Dayton Public Library in 1805 into the 1920s, Ohio public libraries were a piecemeal of legal structures.

 

A Study Commission began reviewing public libraries, and under the leadership of State Senator Robert A. Taft, new library laws and funding by a local intangibles tax began in 1933.

 

Robert A. Taft was President William Howard Taft’s son, and went on to be U.S. Senator Taft, a well-known leader in Congress and Presidential potential.

 

Ohio’s public libraries operated on local intangibles tax until 1985, when a Tax Study Commission found the tax to be “regressive” and suggested repeal and replacement with a portion of the state income tax.

 

Ohio’s new state income tax was approved by voters in 1972 as a means of taking the “tax load” off property tax, and returning it to local governments.

 

Starting in 1986, Ohio’s public libraries were funded by a dedicated percentage of the state income tax which contained an “Equaling Factor” to adjust funding statewide.

 

Things formerly taxed as “intangibles” were rolled into the state income tax.

 

In 1992, the legislature and governor “adjusted” the library fund due to a downturn in the economy, never restoring the percentage.

 

In 2002, the legislature and governor “adjusted” the library fund by freezing the fund and allowing the additional funds to go into the state budget.

 

Ironically, the governor was Robert A. Taft II, grandson of the author of the 1933 library legislation and funding.

 

Two small cuts in the library fund took place in 2003 and 2004.

 

The Public Library Fund was finally “unfrozen” in 2008 and the Ohio Department of Taxation estimated that there would be a “slight increase” over the next year.

 

In the meantime, the Public Library Fund was removed from the state income tax and placed as a percentage of all state tax revenues at a 2.22 percent level.

 

The state income tax, viewed in the 1980s as the “fairer tax” was being reduced.

 

By the start of 2009, the economy had faltered and the Public Library Fund was estimated to decline by 15-20 percent due to lowered collections.

 

In June, Governor Strickland recommended a 30 percent cut in the Public Library Fund, which would really have been a total reduction of 50 percent.

 

Public support changed the Governor’s recommendation from a 30 percent cut to an 11 percent cut, so the total cut is 31 percent.

 

The Public Library Fund was changed from 2.22 percent to 1.97 percent in permanent law.

 

Permanent law simply means until the next time it is changed.

 

What I have learned is that we continue to study taxes, and never seem to settle on what everyone will agree is fair and necessary.

 

We establish various commissions, revamp government structures in order to streamline government and make it cost less; while at the same time the demand for government services continues to rise.

 

In the end, government has no memory for history.  No one looks at the bigger picture.  The funding of public libraries from 1933 to date was never reviewed as all of this change took place.

 

And as we change, eventually everything comes full circle and we are right back where we started.