Update on 3/19/12: AB 543/SB 531 died in the Senate during in this legislative session.
AB 531 was recommended for passage by the Senate Committee on Labor, Public Safety and Urban Affairs (on a party vote of 3-2), but the bill was not scheduled for a vote on the floor of the Senate. The companion, AB 543, was approved on a 61-33 vote in the Assembly but was not scheduled in the Senate.
Thanks to all who contacted legislators with their concerns about the bill.
Update on 3/14/12: The Assembly passed AB 543 on a vote of 61-33 on March 13. The bill was messaged to the Senate, where it awaits scheduling. If your library will be adversely affected by this measure, contact your State Senator today.
WLA remains concerned about the latest attempt to provide municipalities with an alternative method of exemption from the county library tax. AB 543 is the latest attempt to change the exemption method.
The Legislative Reference Bureau analysis states:
Under current law, a county board may levy a tax for the purpose of providing public library services to county residents. A city, town, village, or school district located in the county is exempt from the county tax if the city, town, village, or school district levies a tax for public library services at a rate that is equal to or greater than the county library tax rate.
This bill provides an exemption from the county library tax if the city, town, village, or school district levies a tax for public library services and spends for a library fund an amount that is not less than the average of the three previous years, the county board approves the exemption, and (for the first year of exemption under this new method) the city, town, village, or school district qualified for the exemption using the current law method described above in each of the three previous years.WLA has expressed its concerns about the bill in a memo to the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means, which held a public hearing on the bill on February 9. An executive session (where a committee vote takes place to determine if the bill is recommended for passage and sent to the whole Assembly) is scheduled February 23.
First, as written, the bill would allow a municipality to establish a new library at a substandard level of funding and request exemption from the county library tax. In other words, a new library would have no funding history to determine an average of the prior three year’s of support, and a municipality could exempt from the county library tax at an extremely low level of funding.
Second, to allow an exemption from the county library tax as long as it is not less than the average of the previous three years provides little protection. As a consequence of approving the last biennial budget bill, the legislature eliminated the “maintenance of effort” (MOE) requirement that libraries be funded at no less than the average of the past three years. Because the MOE requirement could be met through flat funding, and its elimination means library funding can be reduced even more, over time a municipality could fund its library at an amount much lower than the county library levy rate and still qualify for exemption from the county library tax.
WLA agrees that any such exemption should require county board approval for this new type of exemption under the three-year-average method. Still, we feel that additional safeguards are important to address potential problems from occurring with new libraries. For instance, prohibiting new libraries from exempting in the manner allowed by the bill for the first three years of operation would be one solution. This prohibition would obviously not affect existing libraries which feel they would be helped by the provisions of AB 543.