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A philosophical debate is shaping up as class action lawsuits against public libraries continue to spread across Kentucky.
The overarching question is fairly simple, and goes something like this: Should taxpayers, with an assist from fiscal courts, have the power to control library tax rates, or should that be left to those smart enough to actually understand how important libraries actually are?
Supporters of the latter are deeply entrenched in their belief that libraries are too vital to be left to the nearly illiterate whims of taxpayers and vote-grubbing fiscal court magistrates. Left to their own devices, supporters say taxpayers and magistrates will allow libraries to deteriorate or collapse altogether, depriving the public of what it, and those they elect, are too stupid to realize is needed.
Despite the fact that most people spend nearly a decade and a half in the public school system, supporters will contend that moderately funded libraries will cause a spike in illiteracy rates — apparently because they will no longer have access to, ahem, “free” books.
Preschool children, they say, will be in jeopardy because reading programs will likely be cut — never mind the endless taxpayer-funded preschool programs that require ever-expanding school buildings.
They contend that unless libraries are funded the way THEY say they should be funded, an already ignorant electorate will become even more ignorant — an apparent byproduct of not having unfettered and free access to the latest R-rated movies on DVD.
Only those appointed to lead libraries understand their importance, and taxpayers should simply shell out and shut up.
Those suing the libraries for not obeying the statutes that govern how tax rates are supposed to be set (see A1) have a remarkably different take, as do many of their supporters.
They believe that taxpayers have the right to dictate how their money is spent.
They believe that only those duly elected and with statutory authority should be able to approve budgets and set tax rates.
They also believe that if those elected to manage their money don’t perform to expectation, they should and will be unceremoniously tossed out on their butts.
They understand that not paying their property taxes has serious, permanent consequences. They know that failing to do so could allow a lien to be placed on their homes — liens with interest rates that would make Visa and MasterCard blush with shame.
They know that if they don’t pay their property taxes, their homes will be seized by the government — at the point of a police officer’s gun, if necessary.
They know that people have not only the right to conduct their own lives, they also have the responsibility to do so in a way that gives them the best chance to succeed, and if they fail, they, not everyone else, should bear the burden of that failure.
Because they know all of that and more, they believe they darned well deserve the right to have a say in how much of their paychecks should be taken from them, along with how and where that money is spent.
There is virtually no middle ground between these two philosophical belief systems, which expand well beyond arguments over library funding and have infected the very fabric of our nation.
One need look no further than efforts to limit the size of soda pops people can purchase or how many bullets they can put in their guns to understand just how divided these two camps really are.
The question over library taxes will likely rage for another year as the lawsuits snail-crawl their way through various circuit courts, courts of appeal and ultimately the state’s supreme court.
For a state that prides itself on gritty self-reliance and shuns hyper-liberal politicians (outside of Lexington and Louisville, that is) that decision will go a long way toward setting the future’s tone.
Are we going to follow the rest of the nation into becoming a nanny state where government knows best? Or are we going to remain a state where father (and mother) knows best?