Californian Martin J. Nichols says he is recommending that his county leaders close all libraries for good by the end of the year.
Nichols, chief administrative officer of Butte County, Calif., said the move is a painful but necessary consequence of Proposition 13, the tax-limiting measure approved by California voters 10 years ago.Libraries aren't the only victims, he said. The sheriff's office has been cut in half, houses sometimes burn to the ground before firefighters arrive, roads are in disrepair and schools are underfunded.
"This is political dynamite," Nichols said in an interview Wednesday. "What elected official is going to cut those services if there is any option?"
Nichols said he was invited to come to Utah to talk to county leaders about the dangers of letting tax protesters have their way, and he was to address a conference Thursday at Snowbird.
Tax protesters in Utah are circulating petitions calling for a statewide referendum to limit state and local taxes, a move similar to California's Proposition 13. County leaders hope Nichols can help them mount an opposition to the drive.
Salt Lake County officials met earlier this week to speculate on which services would be cut if the tax-limitation effort succeeds. The county may lose more than $29 million the first year and may have to cut libraries, services for the poor and road repairs, officials said.
Nichols urged each government entity to write a budget showing what the effects of tax limitation would be.
"You have to educate the people to look beyond the short-term tax savings to the long-term personal sacrifices," he said. "Do they want to eliminate school athletic programs, to pay more for their houses and to not have parks?"
Nichols said home prices in California have risen because the counties are requiring developers to pay for many of the things government used to provide.
"Property taxes now in Utah are lower than in California after Proposition 13," he said. "You're starting at a lower level than where we are now."
Butte County, about 70 miles north of Sacramento, has a population of about 167,000, Nichols said. More than half of the people live in unincorporated areas and rely on the county for services. Cities have the authority to impose a variety of taxes and have not been hit as hard as counties, he said.
But, he said, all of the state's 58 counties have suffered because of Proposition 13, which barred local governments from raising property taxes.
"Cities run their own police forces. They hire more cops and arrest more people, and we have to lay off cops so we can pay for the jails," he said.
Criminals are being released early, and prosecutors have to plea bargain to avoid overcrowding the jails, he said.
"People have said we're attracting criminals to our part of the state," Nichols said. "They're going to go where law enforcement in the lowest."
Although Butte County operates on a $105 million annual budget, most of the money goes for welfare programs the county is required by law to provide, he said. Utah requires similar services from its counties.