Blunt- Library funding from tax misused

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Missouri's public libraries are being shortchanged by legislators whose spending habits are making it harder for libraries to serve patrons, said Secretary of State Matt Blunt.

For the last three years, city and county libraries in Missouri received fewer tax dollars than guaranteed by the law and will get nothing next year because legislators ignored a statute that directs 10 percent of taxes collected from out-of-state professional athletes and entertainers to libraries, Blunt said.

He visited the Cape Girardeau Public Library Friday afternoon and told a crowd of nearly 50 people that this misappropriating of tax dollars goes against the law and the wishes of the voters.

"This kind of thing, it forces people to question the credibility of their elected government," Blunt said. "The money was collected, but it was not spent on its legal, statutorily designed purpose. It's a designated tax for a designated purpose."

Missouri libraries have relied on the tax to replenish collections and improve services since the tax's inception in 1998.

With less funds coming in, libraries will have to make tough decisions on purchases and personnel.

"We will either buy fewer materials or hire fewer people," said Betty Martin, director of the Cape Girardeau Public Library. "People will have to wait longer to get the materials they'd like to use because we may not have enough copies to go around and will have to borrow them from other libraries."

Blunt said the Missouri Department of Revenue annually collects $22 million from the tax, of which $2.2 million should have gone to the libraries. The Missouri State Library, a division of Blunt's office, distributes the funds.

Over the last three years, 20 libraries in 12 Southeast Missouri counties received a total of $191,294.49 from the tax. However, the group should have received almost $400,000, according to figures provided at the meeting.

The Cape Girardeau Public Library has received $14,401 since 2000, but it should have received about $30,297 during that period. Jackson's library received only $1,057, but should have received about $12,355, according to the Missouri State Library. The Riverside Regional Library, serving Perry, Scott and Cape Girardeau counties, received $26,491 over the last three years, but it should have received $47,394.99.

State Rep. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, soon to be House majority leader, said he will place an emphasis on getting those tax dollars back to where they belong.

"It will have a priority on the House floor if I have anything to say about it, and I believe I do have at least a little to say about it," Crowell said.

Scott Lipke of Jackson, who was elected to the Legislature in November, said he understands the tough decisions library boards will have to make without the extra money. He said he has served on library boards before.

Blunt asked those in attendance to talk to their legislators and to encourage them to support the effort to return those needed dollars to the libraries.

"We need to watch the appropriation process very carefully," he said. "I was disappointed to learn the money was not designated in the current year, but I'm hopeful we can restore it in the coming year."

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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