The Tea Party of Northern Kentucky case against two libraries is set to be ruled on by the state Appeals court any day now. This appeal follows a loss by the libraries in the lower state court. The loss would roll back funding for 99 out of 104 libraries in Kentucky to at least 1979 levels. To date, the Supreme Court has refused to rule on the case, remanding it to the Appeals court. Likewise, the legislature in Kentucky failed to pass a bill at the end of last session to ‘fix’ the points of law at the root of the case. The President of the Senate wanted to let the Courts sort it out. The points of law are pretty thoroughly discussed in other places. We don’t have a way to handicap the Appeals court deliberations, but we – and the rest of the national library advocacy ecosystem – do need to anticipate their ruling.
EveryLibrary has been tracking this case since 2013 for two reasons: If the Tea Party ultimately prevails, the 99 libraries affected by the ruling may have to go out for Petition or Ballot to reset their tax rates to current levels; and, that this is a situation where a small group of anti-tax ideologues sued libraries, and that technique for ‘shrinking government’ has been proven viable. If the libraries prevail in their appeal, the funding picture for libraries in the Commonwealth of Kentucky is more stable, but the underlying anti-tax climate there – and across the country – has only been handed temporary setback. When the URL one of the local plaintiff groups is “TaxlessSociety.com”, they will be back. They are on a mission.
But we are not just tracking this case. EveryLibrary has been doing some pre-planning to anticipate how to support the 99 libraries while still hoping for a win. We have been asking our counterparts from national organizations and stakeholder groups to do the same. Because if libraries lose in the Appeals court and can’t prevail in an appeal to the state Supreme Court, one real, true, and possible scenario is that those 99 libraries will have to run those Petition drives and Ballot measure to reset their tax rates to 2015 levels. EveryLibrary does not have the resources today to support those 99 local efforts. We have the skills and experience but not, as it stands today, the capacity to do it right for the people of Kentucky. We are identifying this deficit to you like we have to the other organizations and stakeholder groups in the advocacy ecosystem. Anticipating a state-wide action in 99 local jurisdictions will take the entire advocacy ecosystem stepping up with their own resources – people and money – to cooperatively support public outreach and voter communication for the 99 libraries that will be at peril.
Let’s engage in some”if / then” thinking for library advocacy. It should not paralyze us. In our analysis, there are 4 scenarios:
1) it gets appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court (who have already refused to hear it once) and the timeline continues;
2) the libraries win and we’re done (until the next Tea Party challenge);
3) the libraries lose and the legislature realizes they are about to see 99 out of 104 libraries defunded and do something to fix it with a new law (which they have refused to do before);
or 4) the libraries lose, and there is no recourse in the Supreme Court (who have already refused to hear it once) and the legislature doesn’t take it up (they killed the last Bill) . This mean that 99 out of 104 libraries in KY would have their funding reduced to 1979 levels. It means that the entire library advocacy community needs to be ready to immediately help 22 of those libraries run Petition drive and 77 run Ballot measures to restore their funding to today’s levels. Without successful Petition drives and Ballot measures, the State Librarian forecasts that 20 libraries would lose 30-49% of their annual operating income, 45 libraries would lose 50-69% of their annual operating income, and 25 more would lose 70% or more of their annual operating income. That’s more than devastating. We are thinking and planning about what we can and should do to support all 99 communities.
We’re not hosting a party at Midwinter this year. We had a blast with Mango Languages and Tree House in Vegas, and with Brainfuse at our CLA Pre-Party in Oakland. But the work we need to do in Chicago is to talk frankly and face-to-face with other stakeholders about this very real possibility in Kentucky, and other issues like it around the country. We’re not able to do this kind of work without your help.
We need your donations, yes, but we also need you to talk in your communities and committees about how all of us will respond if it goes badly for Kentucky libraries. If we’re wrong, we’ll be wrong. But we’ll have built up a new cross-organizational skill for anticipatory thinking and planning. If we’re not wrong, we’d simply rather not lose a state’s worth of libraries.