Pawlenty veto puts library merger in jeopardyby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Plans for a merger between the Minneapolis and Hennepin County library systems have hit a major snag. Gov. Pawlenty vetoed a funding request this week that would have paid for $4.5 million in transition costs. The veto doesn't necessarily kill the merger, but it's forcing city and county officials to scramble to find the money.
Minneapolis, Minn. — When the county, city and the city library boards agreed to the merger earlier this year, they drafted a set of guidelines which dictate that in the absence of state funding, the three bodies would split transition costs.
But officials felt confident they wouldn't have to do that -- that the state request for funding would pass and be signed by the governor.
So the governor's veto is particularly troubling for the Minneapolis Library Board. It's already on shaky financial ground. Budget problems forced the library board to recently close three of its 15 branches.
"We've had a lot of tough moments so far. And here's another one," says Kit Hadley, director of the Minneapolis Public Library system.
Hadley says the majority of the transition funding was needed to pay for combining the two massive computer systems that each use to manage their collections. Hadley says talks have already begun to determine which items need to be paid for first, and which can wait.
"For the elected officials to make decisions, what we're trying to get them is a much more detailed sense of the timing of various expenditures," Hadley says. "And then the question will be, how can this possibly be funded? Are there things that can be phased in over a longer period of time? What are our options?"
The governor signed a bill that authorizes the merger, but in his veto message for the funding bill, he said the money should come from local sources.
Some, like Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, disagree. He argues the city and county library system is a statewide asset that deserves state financial support.
"Hennepin County and Minneapolis library systems have historically served the entire state of Minnesota," says McLaughlin. "It was very legitimate that the state ought to be helping with the one-time costs of a merger of those two systems, so there will be a strong resource at the center of the state."
McLaughlin and others say the merger should also have state support because it's an example of much needed government reform. They believe a unified system will be more efficient and stable than two separate ones.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has been critical of the governor's role in reducing state aid to cities. He says cities like Minneapolis have had to raise property taxes and cut other services in order to compensate. And Rybak the city's library system has also suffered.
Rybak didn't have details about how the city will help pay for the merger transition costs. But he says the city is committed to making the merger a reality.
"I think it will be extremely difficult, but that's my job," says Rybak. "That's what we've had to do since the governor became governor, which is find a way to get these things done with dramatically less help from the state."
Library officials say they hope to get a funding proposal in front of the Minneapolis City Council and the Hennepin County Board as soon as possible.