Arizona Capitol

Arizona Librarians Warn That Libraries Would Be Hit Hard by Proposed Legislation

Members of the state library association, county governments, and library districts around the state are warning about proposed legislation they say could gut library funding statewide.

House Bill 2379, proposed by Republican Representative Justin Olson, would put a cap on the taxing capabilities of "special districts" around the state, which includes county library districts.

Whereas counties have property-tax levy limits, the special districts don't have similar caps, under state law. HB 2379 would make the special districts follow the same guidelines.

Although Governor Jan Brewer vetoed similar legislation in 2011, this version just passed the House Ways and Means Committee last week.

Olson explained that under the current laws, a county could circumvent the cap on property tax increases if a special district purposely levies more than needed, then shifts the money to a county's general fund.

Under the new standard, library districts would raise their levy limit 2 percent annually, plus new construction.

"This is a very small issue for taxpayers, yet a critical one to the already beleaguered Library Districts," according to an argument from the Arizona Library Association. "All Library Districts are cutting their budgets, laying off and eliminating staff, reducing hours and access to resources, along with all other state and local governments."

In Pima County, one official says this would have a "devastating impact" on the library system.

"HB 2379 would impact our ability to provide library services at the worst possible time," county administrator C.H. Huckelberry wrote in a memo to the county board of supervisors. "In essence, the County would be forced to reduce our library operating budget by approximately $5.4 million for next fiscal year if this legislation is approved."

Library managers in Pima County gave estimates of where that $5.4 million would come from: The loss of 46 full-time employees, plus a reduction in programs, new books, and hours of operation.

In that House committee meeting last week, Pima County lobbyist Michael Racy said this legislation would "essentially eliminate the opening of any new libraries" (two of which are currently in the works in Pima County, by the way).

Olson disagreed, saying library districts can still propose bonds to pay for the new libraries, but Racy countered that they couldn't raise enough to staff the library and would end up "cannibaliz[ing]" the other libraries in the district.

A member of the Maricopa County Library District suggested staff and program cuts here would be similar to those projected in Pima County.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley