Friday, July 19, 2013

Our war against ourselves

I am utterly confounded by the American people's steadfast refusal to allow any increased tax revenues for libraries, schools and other public services.

The public's willingness to sacrifice its own well-being is frightening to someone who was born in 1950 and raised in an America which viewed civic responsibility as one of its highest secular values.


Hard times or no hard times, this nation has always known in the past that sustaining the literacy, education and health of its people was the only real way to defend national security.

What has happened?

Here are three current Florida library examples of what our county and municipal governments are doing in response to our unwillingness to foot the bill for our own futures.

Jacksonville: Mayor’s budget includes $2.9 million cut to libraries 
Mayor Alvin Brown presented his Fiscal Year 2014 budget to the City Council yesterday. Faced with a $64 million shortfall, departments citywide have been required to take significant cuts.... The library’s budget as submitted...would be $31,420,192. This reflects a reduction of $2,896,659 from the current year, and is $517,801 more than the cut the Administration requested in June.
In order to meet this reduction, the following recommendations submitted by the Board of Library Trustees in June remain as proposed: 
  • No Sunday hours at any location (five locations are currently open on Sundays)
  • A reduction of eight hours of service at the Main Library (down to 40 hours per week)
  • The closure of six branches....
  • These closures and the reduction in hours at the Main Library will result in the elimination of 33 full-time positions
  • The materials budget was cut by $173,370.
Miami-Dade County: Dade Commission Approves Tax Rate For New Budget

Miami-Dade County government may be about to undergo another round of austerity after county commissioners approved by a vote of 8-4 a budget for the new year which does not include an increase in property taxes....

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez...proposed closing a $50 million shortfall by closing more than 20 library locations and eliminating 250 library workers. The county’s fire rescue service would also take a major hit: 149 fire recue workers would be laid off and six fire units would be taken out of service.
Florida Schools: Media Specialist Role Endangered in Florida

School media specialist positions are being hit hard across the Sunshine State, with school librarians finding their positions renamed— and, in some cases, their jobs reassigned or terminated—for the coming 2013–14 school year.

In the Sarasota County School District, all high school and middle school media specialists have been cut for the 2013–14 school year....
Marion County Public Schools has cut 15 of its 30 elementary school librarian positions for the 2013–14 school year, although 11 of those positions had been vacant owing to a hiring freeze for the last three years....

In Pasco County, the school district has done away with the media specialist role and created a new position called an “information communication technology literacy coach...."

Lynette Mitchell, a library media specialist for the past 22 years, told Hotline that in her district of Citrus County, FL, “teacher on special assignment/media” is the new title, which means the position could now be staffed by a teacher with a media center background....
[Library Hotline, 7/22/2013, pp. 2-3]

School media specialist cuts are also taking place in Jacksonville.

Who is willing to take ownership of the public good? Is anyone?

Addendum: My point exactly—Ron Littlepage's viewpoint column in the 7/19/2013 Florida Times-Union.

I recently received a handwritten letter in response to my column published on July 10 in which I argued that a tax increase was the only way out of the city’s budget and pension mess....

It began “Dear Sir” and ended “Sincerely” followed by the writer’s signature. This is what was in between: “Your column of this date in The Florida Times-Union stinks. You are a tax and spend, tree-hugging environmentalist of the first-class...."

I was curious as to how much he was contibuting in city property taxes....

According to the property appraiser's website, his house has a market value of $155,717.... Because of caps on increases dictated by the Save Our Homes amendment to Florida's Constitution, the assessed value is $74,226. The home also carries homestead exemptions worth $49,226.
That means he paid city taxes on a taxable value of $25,000, or $250.88.
For $250 a year...he gets police and fire protection, libraries, parks, roads and a myriad other city services....

[If] the city tax rate were increased by one mill to fill a $61 million budget hole..., he would have to kick in another $25 a year.  For those complaining about high city taxes while paying next to nothing, I have one word: Humbug!
[emphases added]

2 comments:

David said...

I take issue with your early choice of the word steadfast. I think it dilutes your argument. I also think the choice of Florida as example dilutes your argument as well because FL has had a pennywise pound foolish war on the public good going for decades (roads beaches child protective service shall I go on?) and almost qualifies as a special case that cannot be extrapolated from for the rest of the country.

That said.... My sense is that there is a war on the public good going on nationally that is different this time though it has been waged many times and for a long time. It is not ''steadfast" but rather amounts to a desire to see benefits and pension packages for public employees of all stripes get slashed. Naturally this will be directed mainly at nonfire nonpolice and you know that schools take up 2/3 of municipal budgets. Unfortunately this war is not the kind that can simply take place, get won by one side or the other, and then we move on. Instead it is a bloodletting that will take place over a generation. In the meantime much more gnashing of teeth is inevitable. I am sorry, but get used to it.

Mike Shell said...

Thanks, David.

I definitely agree that Florida is a special case...even more so than South Carolina, my former home.

I'm not invested in the word "steadfast," but I chose it to reflect the situation of the past several decades, the era of the so-called "Reagan Revolution" and the takeover of the Republican Party by the neo-cons.

Since the late 1970s, we have seen a carefully choreographed and extremely successful long-term political strategy unfold in this country. It pretends to be about "fiscal responsibility," and it plays to the fears and prejudices (and self-centeredness) of the vulnerable middle-class, but it is, in its actual effects, about disassembling FDR's New Deal.

The process is now almost complete.