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Originally published July 21, 2012 at 3:00 PM | Page modified July 21, 2012 at 8:56 PM

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Fund libraries in city budget, vote no on Seattle Proposition 1

The Seattle Proposition 1 library levy has less accountability than any proposed to voters in a generation.

Special to The Times

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As someone who loves our libraries and patronizes them all the time, I was... MORE
Dear Mr. Shoelaces, I voted yes for the last levy which clearly stated it would... MORE
Completely agree. Voting no. Use the library all of the time and love it. Use the... MORE

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A core public service that we all treasure, libraries should be fully funded in the regular budget, our city's statement of its true priorities. Seattle Proposition 1's temporary funding from a new property tax would free the mayor and city council to begin diverting the libraries' regular funding to other departments, never to return.

Don't let them do it.

Voter-approved levies are for big, infrequent capital projects or emergencies, not day-to-day operations or manufactured crises like this one. Otherwise, government becomes a patchwork of temporary funding measures that don't steward essential functions or address civic needs.

The proposed property-tax levy raises $123 million over seven years. And for what? It lacks ironclad commitments like those which earned voters' trust for the 1998 property-tax increase which rebuilt our beautiful libraries.

The language of the levy ordinance, in the voters guide, provides less accountability than for any levy proposed to voters in a generation:

• No safeguards to protect branch libraries from being closed or from losing funds to the downtown library.

• No guarantee of increased library hours, improved maintenance or better technology.

• No prohibition of decreased hours, neglected maintenance and technology, or closed branches.

• No oversight committee to ensure responsible spending of the levy proceeds.

The mayor and council, who boosted library funding by $3 million in 2012, now are threatening to cut the library's general funds by $5 million in 2013. That's a 10 percent cut, proportionally far greater than cuts in larger departments.

It's a transparent effort to spook voters into approving higher property taxes.

Don't worry. If the levy doesn't pass, this cut in regular funds won't happen. The public won't allow it.

But if the levy is approved, the mayor and council are determined to take $5 million per year that would have gone to the library's regular funds and spend it elsewhere — even when good economic times and revenues return.

Their bait and switch makes this a seven-tenths library levy. The library will immediately lose to other departments 30 percent of the value of the $17 million levy.

It's a "City Council and Mayor Relief Act." Relief from having to put their money where their mouth is on the library, while they divert its regular funds to other constituencies and expose the library to financial crisis when the seven-year levy runs out. They're hoping the voters will fall for it. Let's hope not.

Checked out the Parks Department lately? When the 1999 parks levy unwisely provided operating support, the mayor and council diverted some regular parks funding to other departments, then didn't restore it when the levy ran out. The result: closed community centers and deteriorating parks. Let's not go there with the libraries.

If we allow the mayor and council to play these games here, they'll do it with other programs. Send them a message: Stop the funny business.

Want to help the library? Urge the mayor and council to fully fund it in the regular budget. And write out a donation check to the Seattle Public Library to expand the collection or upgrade the technology.

We wish we could recommend a donation to the Seattle Public Library Foundation or the Friends of the Seattle Public Library, but they've given $135,000 in political contributions to the pro-levy campaign — money that should go to the library itself.

This levy proposal is bad for the library and bad for democracy. If we allow the mayor and council to play these games with the library, they'll do it elsewhere. Defeat of the car-tab tax wasn't a vote against fixing the streets, and defeat of this levy would not be a vote against libraries.

By voting no on the levy, we vote yes for honest government and to keep the library a high priority for regular funds. The regular budget shows where our city's heart is, and temporary levy funding is not the way to Save Our Seattle Library.

Chris Leman is treasurer and campaign manager for the Save Our Seattle Library campaign committee. Find out more at http://savethelibrary.wordpress.com.

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