In Midnight Deal, Florida Legislature Reprieves Public Library Funding

Posted Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - 09:48

Last-minute wrangling in the Florida legislature produced a deal to preserve state funding for libraries at the current-year level. At just before midnight on April 26 the House, which originally wanted to zero out all funding for the State Aid to Public Libraries program, accepted a Senate offer to restore it to the FY2009 appropriation of $21.2 million. The restored funding level makes the state eligible for $8.4 million in matching federal funds.

The budget agreement was reached at the last possible minute: The 60-day legislative session ends April 30, and a 72-hour waiting period is required between distribution of printed copies to lawmakers and the final vote.

Members of the library community had been advocating for the restoration of state funding since March, when the appropriations committees of both houses adopted positions eliminating state aid to libraries, according to the Florida Library Association, which noted (PDF file) that library funding had already been cut by a third over the past decade, from $33.4 million in FY2000 to $21.2 million in FY2009.

FLA Executive Director Faye Roberts said Capwiz legislative action software provided by the American Library Association to state chapters was invaluable in getting the message out to decision makers: Over 60,000 messages were sent using the software over the eight weeks preceding the budget agreement.

Charlie Parker, chair of the FLA Legislative Committee, reported (PDF file) that when Senate Budget Chair J. D. Alexander (R-17th District) made the offer, he asked if “the library guy” with the signs was in the room. Sen. Alexander was referring to Paul Clark, a systems librarian for the Wilderness Coast Public Libraries in Monticello, whom Parker said “has pretty much lived in the Capitol, keeping the issue in front of legislators and the press for six weeks.”

However, Clark returned to the state capitol the following day, carrying a simple “thank you” sign, after having put in a 12-hour day April 26 while budget negotiations took place. “I was ecstatic,” Clark said upon hearing that library funding had been restored, according to an April 27 posting in the St. Petersburg Times' political blog The Buzz. “I pretty much used all my vacation time. Tell my wife, ‘Sorry.’ But I felt like this was an appropriate use of my vacation time.”

"He's just a librarian who cares, who's been standing there, quietly reminding us how important this issue is," Sen. Alexander said in the April 28 St. Petersburg Times. "When you see an individual citizen taking his own time to be heard, that makes an impression."