Editorial: Shame on the AntitaxersIn Colorado, and elsewhere, saving on taxes trumps saving services Oct 1, 2010
THE ANTITAXERS ARE AT IT AGAIN. THEY THINK this country can survive without government institutions or with ones so pared back that they can only deliver minimal services. That's what right–minded Coloradans are fighting against now: not only libraries are at stake in the wacko trifecta of measures on the November ballot but so are safety, education, health, infrastructure, and much more. Even conservative politicians in the state oppose the measures referred to as the Bad 3.
The three proposals call for a slew of rollbacks that include cutting local millages for schools by 50 percent—with the budget gap to be closed by tapping state coffers (depleting them)—repealing post–1992 tax increases approved by the legislature, limiting which tax measures can be put on the ballot for voter approval, and requiring government–supported enterprises, like the University of Colorado, to pay property taxes. Who cares whether college students have to foot a higher tuition bill? That's just Amendment 60. Amendment 61 prohibits the state and local governments from borrowing money. Proposition 101 reduces state income tax and guts car registration and other fees and telecom taxes. The petitions to get these measures on the ballot are somewhat shrouded in mystery, with no organization taking responsibility; a state administrative court finding points to antitax crusader Douglas Bruce.
According to the staff of the Colorado Legislative Council, the result of these draconian proposals would be a $2.1 billion loss in revenue in 2010–11. That would mean 99 percent of the state's general fund budget would have to go to support schools. Now the good news: "a homeowner earning $55,000 per year with a $295,000 home would save approximately $1800 annually in taxes." At what cost?
In his online LJ story (9/2/10), Norman Oder quotes Janine Reid, director of the High Plains Library in Greeley, saying, "For the first time in my career, I question whether the public values public service."
Way back in 1978, Californians staged their own antitax revolt, Proposition 13, which reduced property assessments to 1975 rates and cut taxes. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, we continued to hear about the struggles to build libraries back from Prop 13's devastating impact on collections, staffing, and hours. Now, according to the L.A. Weekly (9/16/10), Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is doing his own personal hatchet job on funding for Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), and, unlike the pushback in other cities, he has gotten a rubber stamp from the city council. LAPL's 73 branches have been reduced to five–day–a–week service, from six, at a time when visits have soared—from 16 million in 2007 to 17 million in 2009.
The stories of cuts keep coming in the news and at LosingLibraries.org, which aggregates reports to form a national picture.
In an informal LJ poll last month, we asked readers, "What's your feeling about the future of libraries in these economic times?" The response was virtually neck and neck between "We'll get through it; this is an opportunity for us to reexamine our core" and "We're on a rocky road, and the library will emerge fundamentally changed after this."
Reexamining what libraries do is all well and good, but it shouldn't be forced on us by those who haven't stepped into a library in years and have no idea of their critical value to the millions who use and need them. At a time when our schools are failing and our children are failing to keep up in a global world, when the economy is still faltering and more people are falling below the poverty line, the huge increases in their use show that we need libraries more than ever.
Novelist Karin Slaughter puts the problem in stark perspective in an opinion piece in the Atlanta–Journal Constitution (9/10/10), "Fight for Libraries as You Do Freedom." She writes, "the funding of American libraries should be a matter of national security.... Librarians are our soldiers in the battle for our place in the world.... Libraries are the backbone of our educational infrastructure, and they are being slowly broken down by bankrupt municipalities and apathetic politicians."
She might have added, as well, by shortsighted Americans who can't think beyond their own pocketbooks to the greater good of their society. "As charitable citizens, we must invest in our librar[ies]," Slaughter says. Go tell it to the antitaxers.
Francine Fialkoff, Editor–in–Chief