As the photographic essay by Pierre Courtois indicates, the Virginia Library Association and the Library of Virginia combined for a successful Legislative Day, reaching important lawmakers in a positive setting. Nevertheless, VLA's legislative goals were not met for the session as a whole, in spite of the determined efforts of our liaison Philip Abraham. Here is a brief report from Phil on full funding:
In my judgment the small increase proposed by the two money committees was attributable to three main factors:
- New spending is not the norm at a short session. Most state programs receive no increases in funding at a short session. In that respect, local libraries should take some satisfaction that they still are recognized as an area in need of increased funding.
- Most of the money spent at the short session was used towards meeting prior commitments made last session but not yet funded in the second year of the budget. These funding priorities included raises for state employees, local constitutional officer employees, college faculty and elementary and secondary public school teacher salaries. When you add the cost of funding these pay raises with the need to solve the "lag pay" program, fund a substantial increased commitment to the Chesapeake Bay Clean-Up, continuing support for higher education and solving the financial crisis facing the state employee health insurance plan, very little money was left over for other initiatives. Most every lobbyist I spoke with had clients who received substantially less than they had sought from the money committees this year.
- The VLA still has substantial work to do in making its presence felt with legislators during the session. As I have said many times, we need strong support from the VLA members in contacting their legislators for us to be successful. We also need to make further progress in the cultivation of strong advocates on the money committees for full funding. Our experience in the 1997 budget process should reinforce the need for the VLA membership to dedicate extra effort during the rest of 1997 in cultivating relationships with their representatives in the General Assembly to increase our chances of real progress in the 1998-2000 budget towards full funding (including gaining a commitment from both Gubernatorial candidates on this issue during the upcoming campaign).
Izabela M. Cieszynski, VLA's Legislative Committee Chair, reminds us that all VLA members can contribute to accomplishing our agenda:
The 1997 legislative session is over and now is a time to reflect on how effective we are at communicating library needs to our legislators. While Legislative Day puts a public focus on library activism, we need to contact our legislators on a regular basis and let them know what is happening with and to their local libraries. While they have to take a "big picture" approach with all legislation, the power of their local constituency is considerable and can influence the outcome of any legislation. Now is not too early to start working towards next year's goals.