Make the Pratt a priority Where to cut: Budget writers must look elsewhere before slashing the library budget.

April 24, 1996

IT MUST BE understood by the public and especially the City Council that the proposed $2 billion spending plan submitted by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is only a recommendation. Despite or because of his call for a 10 percent income tax increase, his ideas as to where budget cuts should occur are nowhere set in stone.

Especially keep that in mind in regard to the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Branches might be closed under the mayor's budget. The Pratt asked for $21.2 million, but his budget gives it only $19.7 million if the income tax is raised; $18.2 million if it isn't. About $8 million of either amount would be state and federal funds.

The Pratt too often is exploited in these annual budget debates. Some people contemptuously associate it with the patrician endeavors of academia and make sure it does not escape any budgetary tribulation afforded other city agencies. Others use the love Baltimore's neighborhoods have for their library branches to drum up support for ideas they insist are necessary to save the Pratt.

We're not saying either motivation led the mayor to tie his proposed tax hike to the deep cuts he says will result at the library without the increase. However, it's plain to anyone who looks at his proposal of $803 million in general fund spending that Mr. Schmoke and the City Council should be able to find alternatives to paring the library budget, with or without the tax hike. The Pratt must not be used as a bargaining chip in the debate over a tax increase.

Of course, the library should do more to help itself. The recent hiring of a development director ought to give it the ability to increase the $1.3 million in grants it obtained this fiscal year. But it's hard to get foundations to give money to a library that can't get the people who use it -- and the city -- to adequately support it.

The General Assembly doesn't give the Pratt enough to serve as Maryland's central resource library, either. But the Pratt belongs to Baltimore. The city must make sure its library has sufficient funds to provide books and information services, not just for academics, but all of Baltimore and its children.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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