[Op-Ed] Democrats Dump on Private Libraries (with California AB 438)

California Assembly Bill 438 is expected to land on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk later this week. The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), would prevent cities from making choices about what is best for their own libraries. The bill includes a litany of regulations that would make it more difficult for cities to find ways to reduce operating expenses and keep libraries open by partnering with the private sector.

In my latest op-ed entitled “Democrats dump on private companies,” published in today’s edition of The Orange County Register, I write:

(AB 438) represents a dramatic overreach by Sacramento into local communities. Via AB 438 the Legislature mandates that cities choosing to privatize are not allowed to reduce the size of their library staffs. Further, the bill mandates that every single current library employee must keep his or her job in any future public-private partnership agreement, which explains why powerful unions have been pushing the bill. Cities will also be forced to spend time and money preparing and submitting studies and reports to Sacramento in order to obtain the state’s permission to privatize.

The piece then highlights a broad coalition of opposition to AB 438. Dan Carrigg of the League of California Cities recently said, “We hope the governor will veto the bill, since he has talked a lot about the importance of retaining local authority.” Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean recently wrote in a Pasadena Star-News op-ed, “In an era of diminishing funding for local government services and overextended budgets, contracting for library services is one way to improve libraries, while reducing the tax burden on our residents. … It is ironic that supporters of AB438 would take decision-making out of local communities and place it in the hands of state legislators and special interests.” California State Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) has also come out against the bill saying it ties local governments’ hands.

The chorus against AB 438 gets louder by the day. Earlier this week The Oakland Tribune included AB 438 in their list of “Four bills that need Gov. Brown’s veto,” writing:

(AB 438 is) designed to prevent public libraries from privatizing any of their services. It would force private firms that provided library services to pay union rates and obey union rules. The reason some cities have sought to privatize some library operations is because they cannot afford the costly union rates in a time of economic hardship.

AB438 most likely would prevent cities and counties from expanding or even maintaining current library services as local government revenues shrink.

My piece concludes:

The Legislature has no business micromanaging local libraries. Gov. Brown one recent day vetoed 12 bills, 11 of which were sponsored by his own Democratic Party. Unless he wants to be the state’s librarian, the governor should veto this bill, too.

So how about it, Governor?

Read my full op-ed available online here. For more, see my previous blog posts on AB 438 here and here.