July 2000

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Legislative Update

By Parry D. Teasdale, NYSALB Trustee and Legislative Chair

July 2000 issue of Trustee

At this year's annual Legislative Lobby Day in Albany, Susan Keitel, the executive director of the New York Library Association, arranged a meeting with Lt. Governor Mary Donohue. Although legislators frequently meet with library advocates, it is rare — perhaps unprecedented — that someone as high up in the administration as the lieutenant governor has taken the time to listen to the needs of libraries.

Donohue asked our small delegation, which included Deputy Commissioner of Education Carole Huxley, State Librarian Janet Welch and Mary Berman, legislative chair of NYLA, questions about the Regent's Libraries 2001 proposal and the more ambitious NYLA plan called Books, Bricks and Bytes. The lieutanant governor also spoke at some length about her interest and involvement in improving the safety of public schools around the state. It doesn't matter how we got on the topic, it was something she had on her mind.

That's not surprising. Often, a lieutenant governor is given little or nothing to do. And when the second in command is given a task like school safety, that person is expected to do the job without upstaging the governor; this is the case regardless of who's in power.

What Lt. Gov. Donohue was telling us, though not in so may words, was that she wanted to know how the needs of libraries fit with the job she's been given concerning school safety. A political calculation lay behind this unstated question: If libraries play a role in the overall effort to make schools safer, she could broach the topic of library funding to the governor and his staff; if libraries are irrelevant to the school safety issue, she would wish us well, but her voice would not be heard by those who make the decisions. She was not suggesting we change library programs to fit her needs. She was simply conveying the reality of politics in Albany.

Recent experience indicates we should not expect politicians to embrace increases in state support for libraries just because funding libraries is the right thing to do. Elected officials agree libraries are valuable, but they also know how many other good causes deserve support, and they make their decisions based on where the money will do the most good for them.

Our visit with Lt. Governor Donohue suggests trustees should think about how to find projects that mesh with the interests of individual politicians. The place to start is to learn the assignments they've been given or the committees on which they serve. By playing to their strengths, we may be able to convince them that increasing support for libraries is good for their political careers. And that could prove as strong an incentive as a fat campaign check.

The state budget contains an additional $5 million this year for libraries, but as of the end of May, no one knows what restrictions the legislature and the governor will place on the allocation of the money. The $5 million represents real progress, considering there was no new funding last year. But it's not nearly enough to address the needs already identified for statewide databases for the NOVEL (New York Online Virtual Library) program and library construction. A meeting between members of the Board of Regents and library advocates is scheduled for early June to begin planning strategy for the 2002-2003 budget.

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