Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Call for Transparency in Ohio

The Ohio coast of Lake Erie.Image via Wikipedia

Friday morning, libraries across Ohio prepared for another busy day as a new generation of library users discovered the benefit of free libraries in the middle of a down economy. By Friday evening, those same libraries were scrambling to alert these new patrons that the pot of gold they had just discovered was in danger of being ripped away.

Public libraries in Ohio have been dealing with budget cuts since 2001, so news of more cuts was hardly a surprise. Many libraries had drawn up plans to deal with this year's reductions, as well as anticipated cuts for next year. Apparently, however, institutions that were told to expect cuts of up to 20% were shocked to find out that they were being asked to shoulder an excessive 50% cut in state funding. Libraries were blindsided by a process that, in today's communication utopia, should no longer be the norm.

How many of us are aware of the workings of the state budget? As numbers get shuffled, twisted, added, erased and manipulated, we go about our lives blissfully unaware of the impact of each day's maneuverings. When the budget gets tight, we sometimes find ourselves facing a day like Friday--a day none of us could have anticipated.

It shouldn't be this way, though. There are tools available to the state and the citizens of this state that should allow us to keep tabs on the budget process. Our governor and our legislators should be providing us with budgetary information on an ongoing basis. We should be able, through feeds and updates, to keep up with the difficulties our government faces in funding agencies and local governments. We should be able to follow the financial status of the issues that move us, inspire us, or even make us fume. The budgeting process should be an open conversation with the citizens of Ohio.

This isn't about putting down programs that we disapprove of. It's about finding inefficiencies, duplications and gaps. It's about tapping into the knowledge and expertise of Ohio's population to create a budget that better meets the needs of our citizens. It's about avoiding the chaos, uncertainty and despair that comes from a day like Friday. It's about respect for the citizens of Ohio.

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