Funding for libraries is a tiny part of the state budget (about one-tenth of 1 percent), but critically important to them and their users, including large numbers of poor people for whom the library is both resource and refuge. It’s a shame that the aid level is so low and libraries have to fight each year just to keep it there. This year is no exception, as Gov. Cuomo has proposed cutting it 4.7 percent cut, to $81.6 million.
State funding for libraries has been basically stagnant since it was raised to $88.5 million in 1998 under Gov. George Pataki. Most years since then we have seen the governor, whoever he was, reduce it in his budget and the Legislature restore the money.
This may be good politics: The governor can come in with a lower budget, knowing that lawmakers will come to the rescue. But it’s cynical and irresponsible, because it is always possible that they won’t.
And even if they do, funding remains flat even as costs and use continue to go up. Libraries aren’t even close to getting the $102 million they are entitled to by law based on the census, and that doesn’t even account for inflation.
It’s hard to imagine a governor proposing a 4.7 percent cut in education funding. Yet libraries are also educational institutions, providing information, enlightenment and culture to all populations and age groups. The state should show them the respect they deserve by providing them the funding they need, and commit to gradually increasing it over time.