Virginia General Assembly Approves Historic Levels of Funding for Libraries
by Philip F. Abraham
The 2000 Session of the Virginia General Assembly proved to be historic and tremendously successful for the Virginia Library Association. Just prior to the start of the 2000 Session, Governor Gilmore announced he was including $3.7 million in new funding for the Infopowering the Commonwealth initiative in his proposed 2000-2002 state budget. This announcement followed the implementation of a plan by VLA during the summer and fall of 1999 to obtain Governor Gilmore's support for VLA's 2000 Session budget initiatives, which were to achieve full funding for Infopowering the Commonwealth and full funding for the state aid to public libraries formula. The Governor's proposal was approved during the 2000 Session. One million dollars of these Infopowering funds will be available in each year of the new state budget for the purchase of computer hardware and Internet connections at Virginia's local public libraries. An additional $1.7 million in new funds will be available in year two for the Library of Virginia to purchase statewide licenses for electronic databases which will be accessible at all local public libraries as well as over the Internet from any person's home. While the Infopowering initiative was not completely funded at the 2000 Session, the $3.7 million recommended by Governor Gilmore and approved by the General Assembly nearly quadrupled current funding for the project and represents a major step towards its full implementation.
Our three-year effort to phase in full funding of the state aid to public libraries formula also successfully culminated at the 2000 Session. The General Assembly approved budget amendments adding $3.542 million in each year of the budget. This means full funding will be achieved in the first year of the upcoming biennium (the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2000). We will need to get a small budget amendment at the next session of the General Assembly to maintain full funding in year two. The current estimate is that it will require about $600,000. Full funding will produce significant new funding for each local public library system in Virginia.
The budget also contained language requesting the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to conduct a study of the state aid formula for local public libraries "to ensure that the formula provides an equitable distribution of state aid among public libraries in Virginia." The JLARC study will consider "changes in funding patterns among local governments, the ability of local communities to fund library services, and collaborative efforts among local libraries and government entities" as well as "the impact of technological changes on library services" including Infopowering the Commonwealth. The study is to be completed by July 1, 2001 and VLA will be providing input to JLARC during the course of the study.
The General Assembly also approved $315,000 in year one for specific local library construction projects and $450,000 in year two for a new grants program for construction projects at local public libraries to be administered by the Library of Virginia (LVA). They also approved budget amendments adding $300,000 per year for collection development at LVA.
The Infopowering, full-funding of state aid, and library construction budget items approved by the 2000 General Assembly and Governor Gilmore appropriated a total of $11.5 million in new funding for Virginia's public libraries during the 2000-2002 state budget. This figure is one of the largest new appropriations realized by a non-state agency during the 2000 Session.
The major legislative proposal at the 2000 Session of interest to VLA was the proposed Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA). This legislation attempts to establish a consistent set of default rules for the enforcement of software licenses and other computer information transactions. The legislation was strongly supported by the technology community and Governor Gilmore. It was opposed by many libraries, businesses, and consumer groups. While the legislation was ultimately approved by the General Assembly, it included a delayed effective date of July 1, 2001 as well as language requiring a new study of UCITA by the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) regarding its impact on "Virginia businesses, libraries, and consumers." The legislation creates an advisory committee to assist JCOTS in this study and, as a result of amendments proposed by VLA, requires a representative of VLA to serve on the advisory committee.
All VLA members who assisted our lobbying efforts during the 2000 Session are to be congratulated. Without your support, and your contacts with your local legislators, our tremendous successes of the 2000 Session would never have been achieved.