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Prop 81 to provide money for libraries

Though voters will be deciding on the big bonds to shore up levees and roads in November, there is one bond on next week's ballot that would provide money for libraries. Sacramento reporter Marianne Russ tells us about Proposition 81.

At ten minutes to ten on a warm Wednesday morning there are already a dozen people lined up outside the Elk Grove Library near Sacramento. They stream in as librarian Pat Sandefer unlocks the door to the well-used building.

Pat: "The community has grown so much over the last maybe five years that it is actually hard to find seats in the library.

Paperbacks and shiny hardcovers sheathed in plastic are crammed into nearly every inch of shelf-space in the small building. The handful of computers are occupied within a few minutes of opening.

About 25 kids and their mothers are here for story hour - it's offered twice a week because the room's too small to accommodate everyone at once. Sandefer is rooting for Proposition 81 because Elk Grove is among many libraries across the state well-positioned to get money for a new building if it passes.

Prop. 81 is a $600 million bond measure for renovating and building new libraries. Libraries have to apply for the funding - and put up a local match of 35 percent. There was a $350 million library bond six years ago - but money ran out before half of the projects could be funded.

Democratic Assemblywoman Lois Wolk is co-chair of the "Yes on 81" campaign. She says many projects that were left out then would have a good chance at funds if 81 passes.

Wolk: We had small rural communities that never had libraries and suddenly they were going to have a library, we had urban areas where the library was just loved to death."

Sacramento County librarian Anne-Marie Gold - who helped get the initiative on the ballot - says it's also very clear what the money can be spent on.

Gold: You have to pay to build the building but you need to put books in it and that is not considered an eligible cost from the state, that's a local cost -so the state's real clear about what their brick and mortar costs are.

But Republican Assemblyman Ray Haynes says it's less about what the money's spent on and more about how it's obtained. Bonds mean borrowing - and therefore, interest.

Haynes: Our state budget's going to be up around $100 billion. $600 million is less than one percent of that. If we can't find 6/10 of one percent of our budget for libraries, there's something wrong, so the question is why are we borrowing the money to do it?

The legislative analyst's office says proposition 81 will cost the state $1.2 billion once interest is factored in. It comes down to priorities, says Lew Uhler, President of the National Tax Limitation Committee. He says libraries are enjoyed locally and should be paid for locally. And he says there's something else to consider too."

Uhler: The advance of computer science and the internet certainly is making library needs less relevant to our society.

Librarian Pat Sandefer begs to differ. She says internet access is one of the most important things public libraries offer. Something she says they could do a lot more of in a new, bigger building.


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