How to Pass a Library Tax

Published in the Hollister Free Lance, June 10, 1998
Dear Editor:

It seems once again that most people were in favor of increased funding for the library, yet once again a measure to fund the library didn't get the 2/3 vote necessary to pass it. As Mark Paxton said in his June 5 editorial, it doesn't seem quite right that some people's votes count twice as much as others. It seems to violate the one man-one vote doctrine.

The reason, of course, is that in California, general taxes only require a simple majority to pass, while taxes geared to a specific purpose require a 2/3 supermajority. Personally, that seems counter-intuitive. I'd think taxes for a specific purpose, where people know how their money would be spent, would require a mere 50% + 1 vote; general taxes, where politicians, not the people, get to decide where the money is spent, should require a 2/3 vote.

Unfortunately for the library, that's not how it works. However, I have a suggestion to get a library tax passed, and it's quite simple. Instead of one ballot measure, put two on the ballot. Sound strange? Read on.

The first measure would authorize spending for the library. It would say something like any new sources of funding to the county's general fund would be given to the library. This would be limited to a certain amount per person in the county; any funding above that could be made available for youth services (again capped at a certain amount), or just be allowed to be spent as needed.

There could also be provisions similar to Measure I such that 60% of the funds would be set aside for capital improvements, that funds raised in San Juan Bautista would be spent on their library, and so on.

Of course, with no new funding, the above measure would be useless, which leads to the second measure. This measure would implement a general tax for the county. This could be 1/8% similar to Measure I, or 1/4% if you wanted to fund both the library and youth services.

So why is this better than the last two attempts at a library tax? Because the first measure is not a tax, it only requires a simple majority, and because the second measure is a general tax, it too only requires a 50% vote. If the second measure passes, the first measure guarantees money is spent on the library, and yet no 2/3% supermajority was needed. Simple, isn't it?

To be honest, I can't take credit for this idea. Santa Clara County did something similar with their Measures A and B a few years ago to increase highway funding. Since the anti-tax people realize it's just a way to skirt the 2/3 vote rule, they tried to have the vote overturned. However, courts have so far upheld this approach, including one just this Monday (June 8).

Assuming the measures are not overturned, this seems like a great tool to get taxes passed by a simple majority of the people. Maybe finally we can have an adequately funded library.

UPDATE: On August 26, 1998, the California Supreme Court declined to review the decision of lower courts.

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