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March 8 election: Arguments for and against directing more money to libraries via Measure L

February 21, 2011 |  2:54 pm

Library Among the many measures on the March 8 city election ballot, Measure L -- which would direct a higher percentage of property tax revenue to libraries -- seems closest to people’s hearts. Writing on our Facebook page, a reader reminded us of the wonderful Walter Cronkite quote: "Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation."

Author Susan Patron took a similar view in an Op-Ed on the subject. Her reasons for voting yes on Measure L include:

--"The library's budget is only 2% of the total city budget. In the past two years, the library force has been reduced by 28%. The book budget has shrunk to $1.70 per capita, versus a national average of $4.20. This is shameful. Measure L can change it."

--"The measure doesn't call for a tax increase. It calls for a change in city priorities, a change in how we allocate the funds Los Angeles already collects."

--"Children have little say in their quality of life; they entrust that to us. I'm voting yes on Measure L -- yes on open doors, yes on big ideas, yes on a welcoming refuge at their branch library for every kid in every neighborhood."

The editorial board, however, urges Angelenos to vote no on Measure L. In this difficult decision, the board argued:

We love libraries too, and consider them a core part of a city's responsibility. They help make literate Americans out of rich residents as well as poor ones. In L.A., they are the largest provider of after-school programs, keeping kids off the streets and providing computers and Internet access to those who cannot afford them. We would like to see them well funded and open as close to 24/7 as possible.

The problem with Measure L, though, is that it asks the question about library funding in artificial isolation. Dedicating more money to the library system without increasing overall city revenues means that other functions of city government will have to receive less. In the abstract, cutting library hours seems hard to defend. But what if the alternative is to hire fewer police officers, or to cut gang-intervention efforts, or to make new businesses wait longer for permits, or to close down graffiti-removal programs?

The voters elect a mayor and City Council to make those kinds of choices through a comprehensive annual budget process, adapting their allocations to the city's ever-changing needs and circumstances. Mandatory funding proposals such as Measure L ask voters to make choices about particular programs without knowing how those choices will affect the rest of the budget. That is why The Times opposes them.



Los Angeles Times Endorsements

Voter guide: March 8 Los Angeles Election

Decoding the ballot: Think measure L for Libraries, M for Marijuana and N for No-good-reason

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: The Studio City Branch Library. Credit: George Wilhelm / Los Angeles Times

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