284: Preparing for the 83rd Legislature

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TEXLINE 284
Posted: August 27, 2012


OVERVIEW

The 83rd Legislative Session convenes on January 8, 2013.  The time from Labor Day until the holidays is the best time to contact legislators and candidates running for office on issues that need to be addressed by the state legislature.

Library supporters must undertake a rigorous grassroots campaign on the local level to recruit other library advocates and to build relationships with their state senator and representative (and candidates for those elected offices).

Toward this end, TLA is developing an array of tools for you to use when undertaking local advocacy efforts.

Table of Contents
•   Summary of the 82nd Legislative Session
•    Preview of the 83rd Legislative Session
•    TLA Platform for the 83rd Legislative Session
•    Tasks to Accomplish before December 15, 2012
•    Resources


SUMMARY OF THE 82ND LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Budget
The state faced a massive budget shortfall in 2011 and made unprecedented cuts to statewide programs. Elected officials voted to cut about $4 billion in funding for schools along with significant cuts to higher education, healthcare, and almost all areas of the state’s budget. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), which manages statewide library programs, sustained a 64% cut in funding. This sum represents a loss of about $30 million in support for library programs over the 2012-13 biennium.

These drastic state cuts have an additional devastating impact: the potential loss of almost $9 million more in federal funds in 2015 since the state can no longer meet federal requirements for eligibility for all matching federal funds for library services.

These cuts affected just about every community, school, and institution of higher education in the state.

Other Legislation
The 82nd Legislature also passed legislation to extend the state’s telecommunications program for libraries, schools, institutions of higher education, and hospitals through January 1, 2016.

Texline 282 contains a full summary of the session and library initiatives.


PREVIEW OF THE 83RD LEGISLATIVE SESSION

The State Comptroller recently noted an improvement in the Texas economy with sales tax receipts and the Rainy Day Fund exceeding budgeted expectations. Despite the improved financial outlook for the state and higher revenue available for the 2014-15 biennium than for the 2012-13 biennium, the state budget may remain stagnant, as the Governor reiterated his pledge to support legislation that shrinks government spending and oppose legislation that raises taxes or raids the Rainy Day Fund. All state agencies have been required to submit proposed budgets that reduce current funding by up to 10% (in 5% increments).The state must also make payments in the 2014-15 biennium that were delayed from the 2012-13 biennium (i.e., Medicaid and the Foundation School Program). Additionally, the anticipated lawsuit by several school districts against the state for failing to adequately fund public schools is about to begin this fall in a district court, but without a Texas Supreme Court decision, we will not likely see any legitimate legislative proposals to remedy the situation.

State funding for library services is at a critically low level. With only $2.5 million appropriated last session for TexShare, TSLAC requires an infusion of state general revenue funding to maintain the TexShare program, provide statewide resources for K-12 campuses, and assist libraries in providing workforce training, literacy programming, and educational services to the people of Texas. It is also critical to note that, without additional state funds directed to library programming, the State Library will likely not be able to make the case to the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services for a continuation – even at a smaller level – of federal matching funds for library services. Federal funds currently help support interlibrary loan, TexShare, and other critical statewide library services.

The 83rd State Legislature will include a large number of freshmen legislators. Although these newly minted elected officials will face a steep learning curve, this change represents an opportunity for all library supporters. It is critical that all the members of the 83rd Legislature hear from constituents about the potential loss of federal matching funding, the list of reduced or eliminated programs and services, and the importance of libraries to the people in their home districts. Many lawmakers are campaigning on promises of fiscal conservatism.  All elected official must be made aware that statewide library services represent a cost-effective and highly beneficial deployment of state dollars.  Funding of library services yields support for under-employed or unemployed individuals seeking to build their skills and resumès in the sluggish economy; small business use of resources to help grow and market their enterprises; and millions of library users (i.e., students, families, and researches) who rely on the Internet access, instructional programs, and resources available at their libraries.

Other key issues that may be addressed include the state’s telecommunications discount program (which was extended last session in a bill by Sen. J. Zaffirini of Laredo). The Senate Business and Commerce Committee was charged with reviewing the program during the interim. At a hearing on August 14, Roosevelt Weeks, deputy director of Houston Public Library, offered testimony on behalf of TLA in support of the discount program.  Telecommunications providers renewed their desire to eliminate the program.  TLA, along with other eligible institutions, discussed the need for the continuation of the discounts and noted that telecommunications providers are able to recoup the cost of the service and make a small profit. We also expect proposed legislation that would permit local economic development corporations the option of using certain local funds for library projects.


TLA PLATFORM FOR THE 83RD LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Texas libraries are essential to the state’s information infrastructure which fosters the economic and educational success of Texas. The statewide library initiatives brought before the 83rd Legislature represent a unified statewide approach for supporting library services and are built on the principle of promoting equity and maximizing economies of scale. The goals of these programs are to promote economic vitality, workforce and college readiness, and educational attainment. These statewide library programs:

  • Offer a broad vision and mechanism of support for all types of libraries now and into the future
  • Focus on the State’s articulated goals of workforce development, educational success, and college & workforce readiness
  • Promote increased reading, writing, and digital literacy

The two primary initiatives for consideration before the legislature are represented as budget items in the proposed 2014-15 budget for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC). (See Article I, General Government, HB 1/SB 1.) The State Library Commission approved the agency’s proposed budget (i.e., the Legislative Appropriations Request) for 2014-15 at its August 2 meeting. The approved budget contained the following two exceptional items requests.

1. E-CONTENT LEARNING RESOURCES – $9.25 MILLION OVER THE BIENNIUM FOR:

  • Digital (electronic) materials in libraries for online homework help, college preparation, research, job searching, career and test preparation, and other assistance in helping people reach their economic goals;
  • Shared resources available to persons of all ages, such as databases, e-books, interlibrary loan networks, and training aids.

Why we need e-content…

  • Economic vitality is a product of a well prepared workforce and a robust business environment. Texas libraries form a broad and efficient foundation that provides Texans tools for education, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Library e-content supports these strategic statewide goals.
  • This request would strengthen and consolidate the provision of digital content – online research on science and business; eBooks; online homework help; job search resources; and career preparation services – available through libraries and library websites statewide.
  • This program leverages the purchasing power of the State of Texas and reaps enormous savings and realizes the best value possible for Texas taxpayers.
  • The funds requested would strengthen TexShare, the statewide program that makes resources readily available to learners, job creators, college and university students, and faculty throughout the state.
  • The requested funding would allow the millions of K-12 students and educators to have access to these materials at their school campuses.

2. INCENTIVE GRANTS FOR INCREASING LITERACY AND EDUCATIONAL SUCCESS – $3.4 MILLION/ BIENNIUM FOR:

  • Training and programming built on local partnerships and innovative practices to advance educational attainment, workforce development, and written and digital literacy

Why we need to support these strategic partnerships and programs…

  • According to the report Addressing Long-Term Unemployment, almost five unemployed workers exist for every job opening. Yet, many workers do not possess the skill set necessary to perform those jobs. The report finds that policymakers will need to invest in education and training programs that can prepare workers for new employment opportunities.
  • Texas libraries provide services and resources that address gaps in education, workforce skills, and literacy levels. 64% of Texas public libraries offer the only free source of Internet access in their communities.
  • Libraries provide a significant avenue to assist in meeting the state’s priorities of promoting educational opportunities, establishing favorable environments for business, and raising literacy at all age levels.
  • With the closure of some local Workforce Solutions offices statewide, libraries must meet ever-increasing demands for training and educational programs.

TASKS TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE DECEMBER 15, 2012

  • Recruit supporters and persons of influence within your community. Have them contact elected officials and candidates asking for support of library issues. Give them a list of the local programs and services reduced or eliminated as a result of the state budget passed in 2011 and share TLA’s platform.
  • Meet your state representative and senator (and any strong candidates for those offices. Visit them at their offices. Take a couple of supporters with you to discuss the importance of library services. Be sure to meet the elected official’s staff members.
  • Invite those elected officials and candidates to your library if you are able.  
  • Prepare information about the value of your library to your community, students, etc.
  • Send a letter to the editor about the value and needs of your library. Invite the media (or a known reporter) to cover an event at your library, perhaps a Library Snapshot Day event in October.
  • Continue communications with your state senator and representative. Write them and have your supporters write them about the library and the need for state funding.

RESOURCES AVAILABLE AT WWW.TXLA.ORG/ADVOCACY-TOOLS

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Created on Aug 27, 2012 | Last updated August 27, 2012