Tax relief means gaps in funds are ours to fill

Published May 4, 2007

Floridians have asked for lower taxes and apparently will get their wish, in some form, through state legislation. But the public still will be hit up for cash to pay for public infrastructure and public services - the people asking just will not represent the government.

It is already beginning.

Saturday the St. Petersburg Times reported that the Greater Largo Library Foundation is gearing up to raise more money to support the Largo Library.

The foundation fears that action being contemplated by the Florida Legislature will result in Largo having less money for the library. So the foundation, a nonprofit organization that does not want the library's hours or services curtailed, is trying to figure out how it can fill the funding gap.

Depending on which tax reform plan the Legislature adopts, Largo could be forced to cut $500, 000 to $1.4-million from its annual library budget. Last year, the city provided $3-million in funding.

The library foundation had hoped to raise more than $300, 000 in private funds this year for library amenities that the city does not fund. But now, with such draconian budget cuts a possibility, Greater Largo Library Foundation administrator Scott Thompson wants to raise additional money to create a $2-million endowment for the library. Interest income from the endowment could be used to keep the library's doors open and the lights on if the worst happened.

Thompson and his group intend to ask the public to attend fundraisers, provide corporate sponsorships, buy cookbooks and Christmas ornaments, memorialize a relative on a bookcase end plate, join the foundation, make a donation, etc., etc.

If someone gave $25, 000 a year for five years, they could even get a room in the library named for themselves or their business.

Expect more of the same from other private groups in Pinellas. The appeals to the public's pocketbook will be many and passionate.

Private organizations like library foundations and similar support groups will try to take on the burden of supporting public infrastructure and services previously paid for with tax dollars. But they won't be the only groups desperately seeking contributions.

So will those nonprofits that depend now on some level of government support to make ends meet.

Organizations that offer services to the homeless, that help the poor, that provide art and cultural activities, that take care of children after school - all face cuts in the funding they have received for years from local governments to support their good work. To make up those losses, they can only turn to the public and ask for money.

Of course, no one knows yet what the Legislature will do. Unable to reach agreement on tax reform during their regular session that ends today, legislators will assemble for a special session in June and try again.

But if legislators decide to take from local governments to give taxpayers relief, nongovernmental groups will soon be begging for those dollars.