Patrick signs bill containing $350K for library branches

A $330-million spending bill Gov. Deval Patrick signed this week includes $350,000 for the cash-strapped Boston Public Library system, which had faced the prospect of branch closures last year.
Library officials cited fiscal constraints and a desire to modernize the 26-library system, but reversed course after community outcry and pledged to retain the branches, which included the Lower Mills building, if funding became available.

At an October meeting with neighborhood residents, library officials said a budget gap would exist until the end of the fiscal year in June. The cost of keeping just the Lower Mills branch open was placed at $108,000.

In a statement, Boston Public Library officials confirmed that the money would keep the libraries open through the remainder of the fiscal year. Boston Public Library trustees will consider the funding at the next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 18 at the recently re-opened Brighton branch.

“Work continues on the development of a sustainable budget for the coming fiscal year,” said Gina Perille, BPL spokeswoman. “We acknowledge that our FY12 budget remains uncertain, but we are grateful for the ongoing partnership of our many users, friends, community members, and elected leaders.”

The spending bill, sent to the governor’s desk last week by a lame-duck Legislature, was signed hours before a new Legislature was sworn in yesterday morning. It includes five months worth of funds for 23,000 legal immigrants facing the expiration of their health care; $50 million for children’s behavioral health services; $16 million for emergency shelter services; $8.5 million for legislative accounts; $1.1 million for a rental voucher program; $1.2 million for mosquito control; $750,000 for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention, among other items.

Much of the bill’s spending – $200 million – is aimed at covering the growing enrollment of the state Medicaid program, also known as MassHealth.

While the bill is aimed at balancing accounts for the fiscal 2011 year, lawmakers are grimly looking ahead to fiscal year 2012, which starts in July. Boston City Council President Stephen Murphy said he expects the city to face a $30 million deficit, while the state budget deficit, according to the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, will be an estimated $1.8 billion.

“It’s all going to depend on how much state funding we get,” said Dorchester Councillor Maureen Feeney.

The $350,000 for the libraries in the mini-budget the governor signed was an example of “better communication” between library and city officials and members of the State House’s Boston delegation, said state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who represents parts of Dorchester.

Asked what the improved communications will mean for libraries that were spared this year, Chang-Diaz said, “I think the commitment is clearly there to fight for the branch libraries. We’re going to continue that fight.”

State Rep. Michael Moran, whose Faneuil branch in Brighton avoided a shutdown, also said he expects the advocacy for the libraries to continue, and the “goal is to keep as many branches open as we can.”

Said state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, “We’re going to have the time to think creatively.” She is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.

The governor is expected to submit his proposal for the fiscal 2012 budget later this month, kicking off a months-long review process in which the House and Senate offer up their own versions before sending a consensus proposal to the governor’s desk in June.

Lawmakers and backers of the closures last year feuded over the proposal to shutter the Lower Mills branch and three others, before the libraries were granted a nine-month reprieve. Library officials shifted their tone on library closures in October, but added that increased funding would have to come from the state, which they blamed for year after year of cuts.

“There’s always been a good relationship” between City Hall and the State House delegation, Feeney said. “It does get a little strained during budget times.”

Separately, lawmakers will be seeing a little less in their paychecks. Using an economic formula based on median household income, Patrick signed off on a 0.5 percent pay cut, or $6-a-week less for senators and representatives. Lawmakers currently make a base salary of $61,400.

Forry noted that lawmakers, who had received a pay increase under the same formula two years ago, have also taken a weeklong furlough over the last two years, as have their staffers, equaling out to a two percent cut in pay. Others declined to take the raise and gave their money to charity.

The pay cut applies to constitutional officers, too, according to the governor’s office. Patrick and Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray are expected to see cuts of $700 each to their annual salaries of $140,535.
“Everybody has to share the challenges and the pain,” said newly-elected Treasurer Steven Grossman.
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.