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'Save Our Libraries' tops weekend budget talks

The Capitol's Knott Building drew a crowd of casually dressed lobbyists, staff members and reporters on Saturday morning as House and Senate budget negotiators begin to hash out a couple of dozen "bump" budget issues not yet resolved by conferees. 

"There's a lot of concern expressed over funding for libraries, but I'm not sure how we're going to get there yet," Sen. JD Alexander said at the outset of the first meeting with Rep. David Rivera. The conferees had eliminated all $21.2-million in general tax revenue in grants to 67 counties and 15 cities that operate public libraries. As most legislators know, libraries have a small but cohesive and very passionate constituency in Tallahassee.  

Outside the Knott Building committee room stood a solitary man holding a big "Save Our Libraries!!!" sign. He's Doug Jones, director of the Wakulla County Public Library. "I'll stay here all day if I have to," Jones said. If the cut is not restored, he said, he would have to lay off two of his five staffers and would have no money to buy new books.

Jones, a former St. Petersburg resident, was upset that library advocates had no chance to speak about the cut before it happened. It occurred shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday in a budget conference run by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City.

Knott Gov. Charlie Crist showed up at the start of the first meeting and briefly took a seat on the traditional press row alongside Lloyd Dunkelberger of the New York Times Regional Newspapers. Crist said he shared the concern about cutting aid to libraries at a time when people may rely on them even more because they can't afford to buy books, videos or CDs .

"I want to be sure we get everything we can to maintain them," Crist said. "It's important." 

Because the House has two separate budget committees, Alexander meets separately with Rivera and Rep., Marcelo Llorente. Most of the "bump" issues discussed publicly involved fairly modest amounts of money or differences in the source of the money.  

-- Steve Bousquet, Amy Hollyfield