Every day we get some variation of this question from someone: “Has the state notified you yet that you will have to cut your budget?”
I most recently received this question on Friday from members of our commission in their regularly scheduled meeting (the first ever TSLAC commission meeting conducted via teleconference).
The answer is, as of today, no. The state has not notified us that we will have to cut our budgets in the current biennium. The most we know is that we believe that in preparing the Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) for the next session, we will be required to identify a contingency cut of 20 percent.
But we don’t kid ourselves that that will be the extent of the pain. In the commission meeting, Commissioner Bradley Tegeler commented that his sources in the legislature are predicting that the next session will be a repeat of the grim 2005 and 2011 sessions. Not good news: in 2011, TSLAC took a 65 percent cut to our state funding. That reduction caused the elimination of the Texas Library System and of Loan Star Libraries program of direct aid to libraries. Further, the reduction in 2012 was such that Texas lost maintenance of effort for federal funds and was initially denied a request for waiver in 2013, which would have resulted in a further cut of $6.5 million in federal funding. Despite some recovery over the last three biennia, the TSLAC budget is still about 20 percent below our pre-2012 level.
So, it appears, we may be looking at similar levels of cuts this year. Like everyone else, we can read the news and know that the coronavirus epidemic has caused a dramatic loss of revenue from various sources, most notably sales tax and oil and gas revenues. Of course, as directed, TSLAC will prepare a budget with contingent cut plans. The difference from the last three biennia is that this session those cuts are much more likely to be more than just contingencies. Those budget reductions will likely impact services across the agency. And, as in 2012, a cut of over 10 percent of the budget would very likely result in a corresponding loss of federal funds. In that round, we ultimately avoided the cut because in subsequent sessions, the legislature moved to restore at least some TSLAC funding, but the warning to Texas at that time was not to expect similar waivers in the future.
Of course, many other states will be in the same situation this time so ultimately many waiver requests will be likely. The bad news is already starting to roll in from other states that have ongoing legislative sessions and their cuts are playing out in real time.
But, we do have a little good news. . .
In the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Congress appropriated $50 million for programs targeted to libraries to be administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Of these funds $30 million will come to Texas. Last week the IMLS notified Texas that our share of these funds will be $2.6 million. The funds are targeted on a need basis to assist libraries in technology, broadband access, and Covid-19 recovery. The following are the priorities for these funds as stated by the IMLS:
a. Primarily to address digital inclusion and related technical support, using the following types of data to inform targeted efforts:
• Poverty/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
• Broadband availability;
b. Secondarily to address other efforts that prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19; and
c. With respect to (a) or (b), reach museum and tribal partners, in addition to traditionally eligible library entities, where appropriate.
While we are still discussing exactly how we intend to distribute these funds in Texas, we are heavily leaning toward a combination of direct grants to libraries to address technology development, unemployment, and Covid-19 recovery, and a strategy to bring more libraries into statewide high-speed broadband networks. We look forward to having more definitive information to the statewide library community by early May.
On Thursday of this week (April 23 at 2:00 p.m.), Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz and I will be discussing these and other strategic issues associated with the coronavirus crisis in a webinar entitled, “Texas Libraries: Planning and Communicating the Library Message and Services Under Covid-19.” You can register for that webinar at this link. We hope you will join us.
We look forward to continuing to communicate the value of our services and the importance of strengthening Texas libraries so they can be true community anchors in times of crisis and at all other times as well.
Links in this post:
Link to our webinar this Thursday at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2548786007212315917