Who Closed the Libraries
Wednesday 01 November @ 15:22:50
BY ED FELIEN
It now looks like the Minneapolis Library Board will be closing three branches: Roosevelt, Southeast and Webber Park.
Why? How could this happen?
It’s a little complicated, but here’s an outline of the steps that led to the disaster.
Before 1994 the library system was simply a part of the City budget. Revenues were flat but steady. In 1994 the Library Board agreed to allow its fate to be tied to the Local Government Aid (LGA) formula devised by the State Legislature. City property taxes make up about two-thirds of the library budget, and the LGA makes up the other third. This worked fine while the State was generous and the economy was good. But then the Republican governor and State House of Representatives gave big tax breaks to the upper income brackets and reduced property taxes on downtown commercial buildings and reality shifted.
Governor Tim Pawlenty and Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum don’t really like Minneapolis. Representing suburban and rural constituencies, they seem to have the inevitable resentment of a younger brother who hates an older sibling because they think the sibling thinks they’re smarter than they are. They have a natural prejudice against the evil big city and its corruption. So they didn’t mind that they cut off both the property tax base and reduced the LGA formula to give tax breaks to their buddies. Last year, as reverse Robin Hoods, they robbed $2.7 million from the libraries to give to the rich.
Is the Library Board at fault? Sure. They should have understood their gamble with LGA meant they needed reserves, but they built a big new downtown library and increased staff. Now, they’re forced to close three branches and sharply reduce hours everywhere else. Could the situation have been saved? Probably. On Sept. 12, 2006, Carol Becker on the Board of Estimate and Taxation made a motion to allow the Library Board to increase property taxes by .57 percent (about half of one percent) to allow two of the three libraries to remain open. Sheldon Mains from the Library Board voted with Becker, as did Bob Fine from the Park Board. Mayor R.T. Rybak, Paul Ostrow and Barb Johnson from the City Council and Jill Schwimmer voted against it. That sealed its fate.
Rybak has now proposed finding $1.1 million to give to the Library Board. That means the three branches will still be cut from the tree. The money would go for slightly longer hours at some of the other branches. Rybak calls this “a tough, but responsible choice.”