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Proviso Probe

Friday, February 10, 2006

M06, Bellwood library referendum [BW]

Bellwood voters will be asked to approve a $14 million new library in the March 21 primary.

Supporters of the referendum plan a modest campaign to make the case to the voters. The architects working with supporters of the library guessed that about 50% of library referendums pass on the first try. This is a higher rate than school referendums.

The Village of Bellwood paid for polling on the library issue. If supporters make the case about meeting the needs of the future, they win. If opponents make the case about cost, they win.

But libraries don’t inspire the opposition school districts do. If nobody organizes a campaign opposing the referendum—the most likely scenario—then the referendum should win by default. Libraries consume less than 3.5% of property taxes generally. Schools consume close to 60%, sometimes more. That is, a small school bond costs taxpayers more than a large library bond.

Public schools have natural enemies: parochial schools, Republicans, taxpayers without children, people who hated school, people who have children who hated school, etc.

Libraries don’t have any natural enemy constituencies.

Bellwood will be a battleground between team Yarbrough and team Moore/Welch in the March 21 elections, but there’s no obvious reason why either side will take up the cause of opposing the library referendum.

Middle class voters are the most supportive of the library, although the rich grumble about the tax increase the least. Bellwood households making over $50,000 are natural Yarbrough constituencies, if they don’t owe their jobs to Moore, Welch or their allies. It seems unlikely Yarbrough would come out against the library referendum. I suppose if Mayor Pasquale asked her to oppose it, she would consider it. But if Pasquale is opposed to the referendum, why not kill it at the library board?

Households making under $50,000 are the least supportive of the library. This may be Moore’s natural constituency. There are two basic ways to attack the library referendum. It’s a bourgeoisie extravagance or that the money will be misspent. Saying that a nice library is too good for Bellwood will alienate some voters. Why own a house in the suburbs if not to be bourgeoisie? And Moore arguing the money is going to be misspent would be noteworthy example of “those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Library supporters are an important interest group. They are passionate. They know each other. And they know how to get and use information. Library supporters are a constituency a politician upsets at his/her own risk. They aren’t leaving the community and they can bite back.

Finally, the nearby communities that have invested in new libraries have been mostly satisfied with the results (Maywood, Oak Park, Elmhurst, La Grange Park, etc.).

Prediction: if supporters of the new library do a conscientious job of organizing the referendum passes.

(BTW, the key question the village should have polled was, “To what extent are property taxes too high already?” By getting an answer to this question and cross referencing it with other communities that have voted on library referenda, one could surmise how much effort referendum supporters will need to expend.)

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