California State Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) introduced an amendment to the state constitution which would make it easier for local governments to raise funds for public libraries. The amendment would reduce the percentage of votes needed to pass such a measure from the two-thirds supermajority currently needed to 55 percent, though still more than a simple majority.
The amended threshold would be more in line with what is required in California to pass K-12 school bond measures. General purpose tax measures that may be used to fund general local services require only a simple majority vote to pass.
“Libraries …provide essential services to the state’s education system and to our communities,” said Wolk. “But while demand for library services is growing, many libraries are struggling to meet the needs of their users in light of ongoing state and local budget cuts,” Wolk continued. “We’ve seen major reductions in hours and even closings.”
“In the November elections, two California library parcel tax measures failed despite receiving substantial majorities, with more than 55 percent yes votes from their communities,” said Derek Wolfgram, President of the California Library Association, referring to a measure in Pomona, which received 60.5 percent of the vote, and one in Santa Barbara, which received 57.6 percent, according to the California Local Government Finance Almanac. According to the Sacramento Bee, all five library parcel taxes failed on this November ballot.
“The proposed change to 55 percent would still require significant support from local voters,” Wolgram added. “The California Library Association strongly endorses this legislation.”
CLA also said in a statement that the association “worked closely with Senator Wolk’s staff to develop the language for the measure, and to provide historical information on the history of library funding in California.”
The move comes after California Governor Jerry Brown proposed a budget with zero state funding for libraries for the second year in a row, something California librarians worried would threaten the state’s principles of universal borrowing and equal access.
To reach the ballot, the constitutional amendment needs either a two-thirds supermajority in the state legislature, or petition signatures from enough registered voters to equal 8 percent of the total who voted in the last gubernatorial election. Once on the ballot, however, ironically the amendment would be easier to pass than a library tax: it needs only a simple majority.