AUGUSTA — The Maine Municipal Revenue Sharing Act was passed in 1972 in recognition that many essential state tasks are actually carried out at the municipal level.

The law stipulated that 5 percent of the state’s sales and income tax revenue was to be sent back to local governments to support such activities. While municipal revenue sharing funds are a relatively small portion of the state’s budget, they are a very meaningful amount of most town budgets.

Since 2010, funds intended to be sent back to cities and towns increasingly have been used instead to balance the state’s budget. Gov. LePage’s proposed budget flat funds municipal revenue sharing in the coming year and completely eliminates it in the following year. Revenue sharing funds were already dramatically cut last year, which forced many municipalities to scale back services or to increase property taxes.

This huge proposed change balances the state budget at the expense of municipalities. Each town will be forced to make decisions about how to make up the major shortfall resulting from drastic reductions in the funds sent back to towns. Depending on the municipality, those decisions will likely end up as a varying mix of more reductions in services and increases in fees and taxes.

Libraries perform services that are essential to all citizens of Maine – especially those citizens who might otherwise fall through the cracks. Municipally funded libraries – which are, indeed, most public libraries in the state – are put at risk when the state fails to meet its mandated responsibilities.

What should be of huge concern to us all is that towns where libraries are the most important lifeline are likely to be the ones where raising additional revenue is nearly impossible.

Towns that are already stretched to the limit and whose citizens rely on the library to provide computer access, high-speed Internet connections, information assistance, access to job applications and all the tools necessary for self-improvement are, potentially, the towns most likely to be forced to reduce services in order to balance their own budgets.

The reduction and elimination of municipal revenue sharing will disproportionately affect those towns that are already struggling. To find out how much money your community will receive from the state in FY15, compared to how much money is due under the fully funded revenue sharing program, take a look at these figures compiled by the Maine Municipal Association: http://goo.gl/Ea3MDg.

Most public libraries in the state are funded primarily through the towns which they serve. When those towns struggle, so do libraries.

Libraries are seeing more use than ever and fill many roles in today’s communities. Libraries offer lifelong literacy support, guidance in locating and accessing information, community space, access to online resources (including support for job hunting and applications) and access to government resources.

In addition to what you might already expect from your library – books and audiobooks for all ages, DVDs and dynamic programming for kids through seniors – many libraries also offer e-books, streaming video, music and discount passes to museums and area attractions.

The incredible Maine State Library connects all of our individual municipal libraries, ensuring access to an array of online resources such as test preparation, academic research journal databases, newspapers, business and investment information, reliable health resources and online versions of renowned encyclopedias and dictionaries. Libraries are an equalizing force in our communities, ensuring that everyone is able to get what they need to prosper.

The state should not pit itself against municipalities. We the people make up the municipalities, which in turn make up the state.

I urge lawmakers to continue to fully fund municipal revenue sharing, in light of its history and importance to town budgets, and I urge municipalities facing difficult decisions to remember the importance of libraries to all citizens of Maine. In most towns, the public library is the heart of the community, and any cuts to this institution will have a profound impact on the people who live there.

The Maine Library Association is dedicated to advocating for libraries of all types. We urge you to contact your legislators and let them know that the ripple effect of reducing or eliminating municipal revenue sharing is not good for your community libraries or your communities.