Lying for libraries: Question 1 supporters using falsehoods to push tax increase

Victor Joecks

Supporters of Henderson Libraries District Question No. 1 are pushing two falsehoods and several misleading arguments in an effort to get voters to raise property taxes.

That’s a charge I don’t make lightly, but that’s exactly what’s happening, and someone needs to point out the dishonesty of these tax-increase supporters.

Falsehood #1:We have not increased funding for our libraries since 1991.”

This appears in the “official” Argument Advocating Passage of Question 1 and is a bald-faced falsehood.

In 1997, the Library System took in $1.94 million from taxpayers. In 2012, it took in $6.67 million.

Even inflation-adjusted, per-capita spending has increased from $19.12* in 1997 to $24.96 in 2012.

The proponents’ claim is so untrue that when I called Thomas Fay, executive director of the Henderson Library District, to ask about this statement, he disavowed it and acknowledged that revenue has increased.

Falsehood #2: “The last time the library received a tax rate increase was in 1991…”

This inaccuracy appears on the FAQ provided by the Rescue My Library group, which supports the tax increase. A hard copy of this FAQ is also available in Henderson Libraries.

If you look at the Library District’s FY 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (p. 68 in PDF, p. 39 on the page), you can see that the property-tax rate it collects has increased from $.0500 per $100 assessed valuation in 2000 to $.0575 per $100 assessed valuation today.

Once again, when I asked Fay about this, he acknowledged that the tax rate used to fund the Library District has increased since 1991.

Ironically, Fay is listed as the contact on the FAQ sheet. I asked him if the library PAC had any plans to reprint the material to correct the error. He said the PAC did not plan to reprint them, because it didn’t have enough money. Even the electronic version of the FAQ, though, has not been corrected, despite my conversation with Fay several days ago.

Misleading statement #1: The tax increase “will NOT be used to increase salaries, benefits, or the number of staff positions.” (Emphasis original)

A version of this statement actually appears in the ballot question itself, although that statement is from the Rescue My Library FAQ.

When I interviewed Fay, he insisted that new money raised by the tax increase could not be used for pay increases, but admitted that money currently being used for books and services could be used to fund salary increases.

This is a textbook example of a shell game. If voters approved an additional $1.614 million for services and supplies, there’s no legal prohibition on the Library District using the $1.606 million it spent this year on services and supplies to increase employee wages.

So, the tax increase may not directly fund wage increases, but it will free up funds previously spent on services and supplies to increase salaries and benefits.

It’s easy to deduce that spending this tax increase on salary and benefits is actually the plan, because Fay has said there’s “practically no one to run Malcolm and Galleria (branches).” Since this tax increase is being sold as necessary to keep those branches open, money currently being used for services and supplies will go toward hiring more staff.

Misleading statement #2: “I fundamentally believe that every citizen of Henderson has the right to decide what their community’s going to look like. Is that a community with libraries or a community without libraries? And in this case, the voters are going to decide.”

This quote comes from Thomas Fay himself and is a false representation of the choice facing voters. The choice facing Henderson voters is this: After adjusting for inflation and population growth, do you want the library system to grow by 31 percent or 64 percent?

That’s because tax revenue received by the Henderson Library District has grown by 31 percent since 1997 after adjusting for inflation and population growth.

In 1997, Henderson Libraries received $19.12 in tax dollars per resident. In 2012, it received $24.96.

That’s a 31 percent increase.

If the proposed tax increase had been in effect this year, the Library System’s per-capita tax revenue would have been $31.44 – a staggering 64 percent increase since 1997.

In 1997, Henderson Libraries received $1,941,306 in tax dollars. In 2012, it received $6,671,331 from taxpayers.

Misleading statement #3: The tax increase is “a matter of survival. We are not looking to grow; we are simply interested in keeping the doors open.”

That statement is from the website and has the same problems as Fay’s quote above. If you can’t figure out how to keep the doors open after going from $1.9 million in 1997 to $6.6 million in 2012, an inflation-adjusted, per-capita increase of 31 percent, you need new leadership, not more tax dollars.

It is shameful for Question 1 supporters to lie and mislead citizens in their quest for this tax increase. Henderson residents should know about these falsehoods.

*In a previous post, I noted that the level of inflation-adjusted, per-capita spending in 1997 was $19.04, while the figure above is $19.12. What happened is the inflation-adjusted amount given by the BLS’ inflation calculator changed, because it uses the “latest monthly index value” for the current year.

So while both numbers were accurate at the time, $19.12 is the most up-to-date figure.