February 24, 2006
Director, Communications & Public Information
Board Appears Before Joint House & Senate Ways & Means Committee
Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioner George Comeau and Director Robert Maier were among those who testified on behalf of libraries yesterday in Franklin, Massachusetts, before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Ways & Means Committees.
As reported by Jim O'Sullivan of the State House News Service
A three-year plan proposed by the Board of Library Commissioners would help the 1,800 libraries in the state's regional collaborations restore programs sacrificed during the budget crunch, said Robert Maier, the board's director. In support of increases to six line items and a $75 million public library construction bond bill closely matched by Romney's own capital proposal, Maier said libraries "are playing a very big role in breaking down the digital divide."
"We need state-supported programs to link together the libraries, to make those links through infrastructure that allow us to provide the equity of access that I think we all want to provide to citizens of the Commonwealth," Maier said
A $75 million construction bond bill (S 1841) sponsored by Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) would help pare a 25-community waiting list dependent on $68 million, with another 10 proposals still in the reformulation stage and potentially totaling another $30 million, Maier said. Romney's omnibus capital improvement plan, $950 million in total bonds, designates $72 million for public library projects.
"Either way is fine," Maier told the News Service. "We're just delighted to have the governor's support for the program."
The commissioners' $32.8 million aggregate requests for the six line items exceed Romney's by a total of $2.6 million.
7000-9101 - Board administration - Board: $1,090,407; Romney: $985,720
7000-9401 - State aid to regional public libraries - Board: $16,509,172; Romney: $15,480,361
7000-9402 - Talking Book Library (Worcester) - Board: $390,000; Romney: $325,000
7000-9406 - Talking Book and Machine Lending Agency (Perkins School for the Blind) - Board: $2,182,175; Romney: $1,978,550
7000-9501 - State aid to public libraries - Board: $9,343,164; Romney: $9,189,844 (with authorization for the board to award 55 additional waivers on top of statutory 10 waivers for FY '07 municipal appropriation requirement)
7000-9506 - Library technology and resource sharing - Board: $3,333,000; Romney: $2,000,000
Maier said the regional system suffered a 24 percent cut during the financial crisis, but "got a little back last year."
Line item funding for the board tumbled from $34.6 million in fiscal 2001 to $25.5 million in fiscal 2004, coming back to $29.6 million this fiscal year.
"We've taken some significant hits. We've tried to focus on the absolutely core services. I think we've done well with that. But the use of those services has increased; the cost to provide them has increased. And we really need help," Maier said.
Lawmakers enthused about the bond bill, and appeared to look on the Commissioners' requests favorably.
"I think your requests are very modest and very reasonable for the services you provide," said Sen. Edward Augustus (D-Worcester), recalling visits to a Worcester library where people were downloading job applications.
"It really is a great equalizer. It provides opportunities for working-class and poor families who might otherwise not have access to that information," he said."
Others who testified on behalf of the Board were Sunny Vandermark, Administrator of the Metrowest Massachusetts Regional Library System, and Steven Rothstein, President of the Perkins School for the Blind.
State agencies who also testified were the Board of Higher Education, Ethics Commission, Campaign Finance and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
The Board of Library Commissioners (mass.gov/mblc) is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board advises municipalities and library trustees on the operation and maintenance of public libraries, including construction and renovation. It administers state and federal grant programs for libraries and promotes cooperation among all types of libraries through regional library systems and automated resource sharing. It also works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability or cultural background, have access to essential new electronic information technologies and significant electronic databases.