What a difference a week makes. On Friday, Kansas first lady Mary Brownback celebrated public libraries by announcing a number of small grants to 17 of these community bedrock institutions.

“These grants help libraries across our state purchase new technology and reading material for many reading levels,” she said in a press release.

“Some of these small-town libraries are a hub of the community,” she said. “We need them to stay relevant. Kids — they’re not going to go anywhere if they can’t read. It is so important to be able to read and read well.”

While the sum total of the grants is only $9,200, the guiding principle of the matter is sound. Public libraries perform an incredibly useful role in every Kansas county, and every effort should be made to keep them viable. We applaud Mary Brownback for her support.

Of course, then Monday rolls around and the Kansas House Taxation Committee had a hearing that potentially could destroy the library system as it exists in the state today.

In a room crowded with opponents of the legislation and one lone proponent from the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity, lawmakers considered House Bill 2719. This bill would require either a county or city government to approve any changes in property tax levies that support libraries, airports, museums, parks, recreation commissions, fire and water districts. Alternatively, the annual process of funding these entities could be voted on by the public.

“This bill would improve accountability for many local government property tax and bond issues by ensuring elected officials are part of the decision-making process,” said AFP lobbyist Alan Cobb in a Topeka Capital-Journal Story.

“This bill will manage to do with a stroke of a pen what years of a bad economy failed to do,” said Matt Nojonen, director of the Leavenworth Public Library. “Force a local tax increase or force cuts so deep that the first public library in the first city in the state of Kansas, an institution proudly supported by its community since 1899, will become a sad shadow of itself.”

To their credit, at least for now, committee members took no action on the bill.

We sincerely would hope lawmakers will adopt the common sense Mary Brownback brings to the table, and not the government-slashing mentality of her husband.

The bill reeks of cookie-cutter legislation spewing forth from the American Legislative Exchange Council. While “accountability” is heralded, the aim is more destructive in nature.

Citizens in Hays, home to one of the state’s best libraries, know HPL’s annual budget gets scrutinized each year when the city is assembling its own budget. The library, which has a board appointed by the mayor, has to defend its spending decisions and justify any increases it seeks.

There simply isn’t any rubber-stamping going on here. If there is elsewhere, that’s a local government issue — not one for state lawmakers to waste any time with.

Keeping libraries open, along with public schools, is the only way we’ll educate future community leaders about the tyranny of any majority that grabs hold of state government.

HB 2719 presents a danger not only to public libraries today, but the future of the Sunflower State. We’ll keep an eye out to ensure the bill’s language doesn’t get inserted in some other piece of legislation.

We encourage the first lady to do the same. Somebody in the governor’s household needs to be looking out for children.


Editorial by Patrick Lowry