December 15, 2008
Save the Libraries
We Can't Afford to Lose Any of These Essential Facilities
By Stan Shapiro
Along with the rest of the nation, Philadelphia is facing hard times. Individuals, families and our local government are all facing immense financial challenges. Unfortunately, some of the initial steps the City has taken to meet those challenges are profoundly wrong-headed. This is especially so when it comes to the Mayor's decision to close 11 branches of the Free Library. Neighborhood Networks strongly and unequivocally opposes that decision....
Sign the Petition Against the Closings
Please help us send the message that this decision is just wrong. Sign our online petition against the closings here
Much has been written on why closing libraries makes no fiscal or policy sense, so we will not elaborate here. Some of the best analysis appears in the December 14 Inquirer op-ed written by Friends of the Free Library Director Amy Dougherty. You can find that article here
Although we agree strongly with Ms. Dougherty that the library branches are an irreplaceable asset, we disagree with her in one regard. She believes that to save the branches, all other branches should temporarily cut their hours until funding can be found to restore regular schedules. We think there are funds that can be found now to avoid any cutbacks.
To start with, the City pays $30 million annually to the Eagles and Phillies for the debt service on construction of their new stadiums. Those teams should step up as good corporate citizens and waive part or all of these payments until the financial crisis is over. The Mayor claims the cost of keeping the branches open is $8 million. At least one independent analyst has concluded that it's more in the area of $4 million. Whichever figure is right, the Eagles and Phillies would have to sacrifice just a small piece of the largesse we've showered on them, to keep the branches open.
Then there is Comcast. It's benefited two ways from corporate welfare that's been sent its way. It got a direct subsidy from the Commonwealth of $43 million to build its new Cira Center home in downtown Philly. But then it gets to double dip through its exclusive broadcast rights to the games of the separately subsidized Eagles and Phillies. It should send some of its bonanza to the kids of this City.
We could go on with many other examples of corporate -- as well as nonprofit -- subsidies that have been put ahead of services to the residents of the City in years past. Any one of these entities could step up to save these libraries.
Here's another source of funds: the State of Pennsylvania legally owes the City hundreds of millions of dollars for court costs that it has simply refused to pay. That stiff-arming could end as soon as the General Assembly reconvenes at the beginning of the new year. But our state delegation has never demanded that the State pay up and there's scant evidence that it intends to do so now. These legislators need to step up to the plate.
We could go on for many webpages about a variety of appropriate ways to pay for what needs to be done. But we say this now: these library branches have to stay open. Our petition says that if no other way can be found, we are willing to absorb the tiny wage tax increase that could also be used to pay for keeping them open. If the independent analysts are correct in their estimate that only $4 million is needed, we could save the branches with a wage tax increase of 16 one thousandths of a percent. That's right; almost nothing. A person earning $50,000 a year would pay another $9 a year if the wage tax went up that much.
We make this statement to show how ludicrous it is for the City to claim it needs to take away our libraries for the measly sum at issue. Please sign our petition to help us send that message. And then ask five people you know to sign them, and have them each ask five more. And then we'll have sent a message that no politician can ignore.
Let's build this list high by December 23, 8 days before the doors are scheduled to shut. Then we'll deliver the petition on Christmas Eve, brightening the holiday spirit for us all.
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