Louisiana's 2012-2013 state budget eliminated all state library grants, which have been used by local library systems to pay for Internet service and other technology expenses. The savings to the overall state budget is relatively small — the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (CRT) was asking for $896,000 — but Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, whose office administers CRT, told Gambit last week the cut will have an outsized impact.
"It's going to have a very significant impact on libraries, particularly the rural ones," Dardenne said.
Libraries in larger, urban parishes won't likely feel any pain from the cuts. The New Orleans Public Library's $12.5 million 2012 operating budget comes entirely from a local millage. Last year, it received only $13,000 from the state, according to city budget documents. But a June 28 story in Library Journal found that, in some smaller parishes, the grants account for significant portions of local library budgets. According to the story, the Audubon Regional Library, which serves East Feliciana and Saint Helena parishes, received $50,000 from the state last year — 10 percent of the system's total budget.
Dardenne said he hopes libraries can maintain funding for Internet access and computers, but "it will be at the expense of other priorities in their budgets."
According to a recently released U.S. Census report compiled from U.S. Department of Commerce statistics, only about 63 percent of Louisiana residents have at-home Internet access, compared to a national average of 71 percent.
"At a time when we're stressing education as much as we are in the state, it's particularly concerning for young people who rely on their libraries because they might not have computer access at home," Dardenne said. "[The library grant program] is clearly an appropriate area for reconsideration next year."
Dardenne — like Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican — also criticized the governor for vetoing $100,000 in state grant funds to the Council on the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), which amounted to 40 percent of the state agency's total operating budget.
"This veto came out of the blue," Dardenne said. The lieutenant governor praised CODOFIL, saying the organization, created by lawmakers in 1968, had been "rejuvenated" in recent years, expanding its services, including French language immersion programs. The veto is "a slap in the face to every French-speaking person in Louisiana," Dardenne added.
The lieutenant governor noted the ironic timing of Jindal's veto: "During the bicentennial year when we're celebrating the history of the state and our connections to France and Canada, it was particularly disturbing." — Charles Maldonado