By the time they found out that they had been targeted by a national political action committee opposed to taxes and government regulation, it was too late. The robocalls and misinformation were relentless, distributed by the influential conservative committee funded by Charles and David Koch.
Plainfield needed to raise $39 million to replace a 26-year-old library that no longer meets community needs. Thanks to the Koch brothers’ onslaught, the community of slightly fewer than 40,000 failed on March 15 to pass a bond issue and a property tax increase.
St. Louisans are facing a similar campaign regarding the city’s 1 percent earnings tax. Local financier and tax opponent Rex Sinquefield is spending $2 million to fight the tax, which raises about $160 million a year and accounts for a third of the city’s general revenue budget.
Voters who will decide on April 5 whether to continue the earnings tax should keep the Plainfield experience in mind. Taking away tax money needed to fund services — whether libraries, police or fire districts — cripples communities and hurts the people who live there.
Library advocates were no match for the Koch brothers and their $100 billion net worth. Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kan., is the largest privately held company in the nation. At the same time the Illinois chapter of Americans for Prosperity was working to kill Plainfield’s library aspirations, a separate chapter of the political action committee was advocating for legislation to require voter approval for changes in property tax levies or bond measures in Kansas.
Missouri already has this requirement, known as the Hancock Amendment. In Kansas, dozens of librarians and representatives of small governing bodies protested the bill and got the sponsor to exempt libraries, but the measure still would apply to other nonelected boards that can levy taxes or incur debt.
What could these conservative billionaires possibly have against libraries? Perhaps they’ve drawn their strategy from the words of newsman Walter Cronkite: “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”
Libraries are a final safety net. People use libraries to search for jobs, read newspapers and books, take computer classes and inform themselves. They’re a particularly valuable resource for educating children.
An informed and educated population would see through the Koch brothers’ goals and fight back against their enrichment at the expense of the poor and middle classes. Defunding libraries can only serve to keep the population pliant and ignorant.
Unlike voters in Plainfield, St. Louisans have been forewarned about Sinquefield’s campaign. Fool us once, shame on you. Create a nation of fools, shame on us.
Deb Peterson • 314-340-8276
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