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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.

Ohio Budget for 2015-2017

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, July 26, 2015

Every two years public libraries join with other governmental units and the general public to observe the Ohio budgetary process move through the 6 month period of time that it takes to develop the state’s biennial budget.


Any governmental unit, agency, or organization that somehow participates in the Ohio budget will work with the Legislature and Governor as the process moves through the system.  Some will be invited to provide testimony to the Finance Committee of the Ohio House and Senate.


In the 40 years that I have administered a public library, I have watched the process change and become more complex as the years have passed.


The process begins early in the year with the Governor presenting his recommendations to the Ohio House of Representatives, who then send their budget to the Ohio Senate.  A Conference Committee works out the differences and presents one budget plan to the Governor for his signature by June 30th of the year for the next two years of operations of the State of Ohio.


This year, Gov. Kasich signed the final version of the State Budget on June 30, 2015 for the time period of July 1, 2015 – June 30, 2017.


The Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County receives about 2/3 of its budget from the Public Library Fund of Ohio, a dedicated trust fund that receives 1.66 percent of the General Revenue Fund of the State of Ohio.


That Fund climaxed in 2002, and since then the Fund has been frozen by legislative action, reduced, with “other” agencies now funded from PLF.  In 2009, the Fund took its largest reduction bring it to a point that is 31 percent less that its peak level of funding.


Since 2009, most Ohio public libraries have asked local voters to approve operating levies to supplement the PLF, as has been the case in Jefferson County in 2010 and a renewal issue earlier this year.


The Governor’s proposal included retaining the Public Library Fund at its 1.66 percent level, but an amendment in the House to increase it to 1.70 percent was passed, and agreed to by the Senate, and was part of the final budget bill signed by Gov. Kasich.


Initial deliberations in 2013 indicated that the previous State budget would increase the Public Library Fund by 4 percent due to the improvement in the economy, but due to tax changes, that didn’t happen.


It appears the same will take place in this budget, and the small increase in the Fund will be off-set by tax changes.  At this point, the Ohio Office of Budget and Management cannot estimate the actual level of the Public Library Fund until later this fall.


It would appear that the future funding of Ohio’s public libraries will always include a local funding component.


The Public Library Fund has included a $ 5 million dollar reduction for the Ohio Public Library Information Network and the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped for several years, both formerly funded by the State General Revenue Fund.


Local governments complained that this budget contains a Rainy Day Fund of over $ 2 billion dollars, while the Local Government Funds have been cut to almost nothing, squeezing cities, counties, villages, and townships.


Overall, I am pleased at the outcome of the State budget process, but libraries received a surprise when we were told that the Learning Express Library, an online database sponsored by four different agencies, would no longer be offered to Ohio citizens due to a budget cut in the sponsoring agency.


Our Library System has used that resource for college preparation and career guidance and as part of our online training package for some time, and its loss will be devastating to our online materials offerings.


That points to a problem with the State budget process --- the lack of understanding of the impact on some of the financial decisions in such a complex document.


In those 40 years of my watching the State budget process, it would be difficult to name a budget year where some “tax study proposal” is not part of the budget.  This time it is called the “Ohio 2020 Tax Study Commission” designed to make recommendations on transitioning from Ohio’s personal income tax, as well as Ohio’s severance tax.”


It seems like tax structures are studied over and over, and philosophies change as time passes.