by Mike Neppl, NYLA Director of Government Relations & Advocacy
The 2017 Legislative Session gaveled out – for the second time – on June 29th; the last sputtering gasps of activity proved a fitting conclusion for a year that began with the confusing and convoluted rollout of Governor Cuomo’s seventh Executive Budget proposal.
Despite our recent successes – five consecutive years of increased State Library Aid, an historic increase in State Library Construction Aid, tens of millions of dollars in additional operating and construction grants, and the passage of long-stalled legislation – the library community had well-founded fears heading into this session. Recent history indicated the Governor was likely to implement across-the-board funding reductions following an election year, and reports from the Office of the State Comptroller indicated that projected state revenues were falling far below expectations.
Unfortunately, these fears were realized when the Governor unveiled his FY2017-18 spending plan: library funding was cut, and the hard-won battles of 2016, which saw increases in both State Library Aid and State Library Construction Aid would have to be refought. And this year, we would have to fight those battles without our best ally, retired State Senator Hugh Farley.
Together with library advocates from across New York State, NYLA met these challenges head-on, and once again emerged from the legislative session with several important victories; we turned back the Governor’s funding cuts to two core programs, secured increased funding for Library Construction Aid, passed two long-dormant pieces of legislation, and facilitated millions of dollars in direct grants to a record number of libraries. With great pride in our strong and successful efforts, I submit this report on the 2017 NYS Legislative Session.
FY 2017-18 NYS Budget
This year’s enacted state budget and companion legislative resolutions for targeted aid will provide approximately $14.6M in new funding for libraries. This represents the second largest single-year increase in state appropriations for libraries, and places total state allocations for libraries and library programs at nearly $124M in FY2017-18.
- State Library Aid. Funding for the State Library Aid program will be $95.6M in FY2016-17. Governor’s Cuomo’s Executive Budget proposal cut this funding line by $4M – the amount NYLA worked to secure during the 2016 budget negotiations. Governor Cuomo employed this across-the-board strategy of targeted cuts, what amounts to a negotiating tactic with the legislature, after the last round of state legislative elections. With an unprecedented level of organization and advocacy actions by the library community, we reversed the Governor’s proposed cuts.
- State Library Construction Aid. Funding for the State Library Construction Aid program will be $24M in FY2016-17. Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget rolled back the $5M increase New York’s library activists secured in last year’s budget – the program’s first increase in a decade. The $24M allocation represents a $10M increase over the Governor’s proposed budget, and a $5M year-to-year program increase. After a decade of stagnant funding, the Library Construction Aid Program has nearly doubled in one calendar year.
- Senate & Assembly “Bullet Aid” for Libraries and Library Systems. These targeted grants-in-aid programs for “certain school districts, public libraries, and not-for-profit institutions” saw a 40% reduction in available appropriations in this year’s enacted budget. However, in Senate Resolution 3067 & Assembly Resolution 708, more than $4.1M was awarded to nearly 600 libraries. A record number of libraries received appropriations, and though overall funding for these programs was reduced by 40%, libraries received a greater share of these funds than in any previous year.
- Senate funding for NYS Economic Development Assistance Program. The NYS Senate provided approximately $5.2M in Senate Resolution 3068 to continue and institute funding for projects at nearly 40 libraries and library systems. This represents an increase of approximately $400,000 over last year, directed towards nearly twice the number of libraries.
- Assembly funding for “Legislative Initiatives.” The NYS Assembly provided nearly $250,000 to continue and institute funding for projects at several libraries. These awards ranged from $5,000 to $75,000.
NYLA Legislative Priorities
NYLA’s legislative priorities are devised by the Legislative Committee and NYLA Council, and set multi-year advocacy goals to benefit each library type. Recent successes have allowed us to focus on more complex, politically difficult issues.
- Ensure Access to School Libraries and School Librarians - A.6023 Solages
This legislation would require every elementary and secondary school in NYS to provide students with a school library staffed by a certified School Library Media Specialist. Currently, there is no such requirement for elementary schools, and secondary schools are required only SED regulations. During this legislative session, we worked with Assemblywoman Solages to sponsor this bill in the Assembly. NYLA also worked with SLSA to undertake a census of librarians by school building to gauge the potential impacts of the legislation. We will continue to educate the legislature and develop the best strategy to advance this important bill.
- Equitable Access to DASNY Financing for Public Libraries – S.5303 Ritchie
This legislation would remove an antiquated and cumbersome roadblock for libraries in need of timely renovations, and ensure local taxpayers have access to DASNY’s expertise and low-cost services. Currently, any library seeking desperately-needed financing for capital improvements must be individually approved in law. This legislation once again passed the Senate but faced staunch opposition in the Assembly.
- Taxpayer Access to Publicly-Funded Research
This legislation would require any New York State-funded research that is published in peer-reviewed journals to be made publicly available online after one year. This bill would bring NYS in line with the federal standards employed by the National Institute of Health, and the State of California. This bill has faced concerted opposition for several years, which has intensified.
During each legislative session, NYLA works on additional legislation that is not part of our official legislative agenda, but will impact the library community. While not on this year’s legislative agenda, NYLA worked in the waning hours of this session to revive two politically difficult pieces of legislation and pass them through both houses. These will be sent to the Governor to be signed into law, but they face an extremely difficult road to enactment.
- Economic Impact of Public Libraries & Library Systems – S.3010 Ritchie / A.5810-A Quart
This bill would require the New York State Economic Development Corporation, in partnership with the New York State Education Department, to conduct a comprehensive study of the economic impact of libraries and library services on the state and local economies. This legislation was last on NYLA’s Legislative Priority list in 2013, and fell off after several years of failed attempts at passage. This bill will be sent to the Governor for consideration.
- Tax Contributions to the “Love Your Library Fund” – S.3023-A Ritchie / A.1094-A Galef
This bill provides an opportunity for taxpayer to make direct contributions to the state’s “Love Your Library Fund” in support of local Summer Reading programs. This legislation was previously passed in 2010, and vetoed by then-Governor Paterson. This legislation will now be sent to Governor Cuomo for consideration.
One Last Thing…
As previously mentioned, this legislative session was the first without the great Senator Hugh Farley wielding his experience, knowledge, and seniority on our behalf. Additionally, we officially welcomed two new advocates into the fold: Senator Patty Ritchie, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Libraries, and Assemblyman Dan Quart, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Libraries and Education Technology. Though both have long been library supporters, each used their new assignments to distinguish themselves as forceful advocates for libraries and library services. I am excited for us to continue learning together, and optimistic that as our partnership deepens we will discover two uniquely capable legislators to help advance our agenda.
Keeping the Fires Burning
As you know, libraries are under attack from all directions – federal, state, and local. Here in New York State, our community libraries are protected only through your continued dedication, and NYLA’s organizational strength. Your NYLA membership allows us to fight for you and on behalf of those vulnerable and voiceless New Yorkers who rely on the services libraries provide, and we thank you for your continued support.
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