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Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Lancaster urged lawmakers reject a measure to impose restrictions on the privatization of public libraries at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, June 3, 2011. By a 41-28 party line vote the Assembly passed the bill, by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, that will require contractors to prove they would save taxpayer money should they take over library.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

IN EACH legislative session in Sacramento, there is a flood of ill-conceived bills that deserve quick vetoes by the governor. Assembly Bill 438 is one of them.

With the prolonged economic downturn, which has hit California particularly hard, cities have been forced to make painful reductions in spending. Among the leading targets are libraries, which often have their hours severely cut back in order to make funds available for basic government services. In some instances, libraries or branches have been closed to save money.

One of the options cities have in trying to retain decent library services is to contract out for them. Doing so allows cities to keep their libraries open longer, or in some cases, to keep them open at all.

Unfortunately, the Service Employees International Union, which represents municipal public employees, opposes contracting for library services.

The SEIU argues against contracting because "attaching a profit margin to library services will inevitably result in new or increased fees to the public, thus turning our 'free' library system increasingly into a system that only those who can afford the extra costs will be able to benefit from ... ."

Really? What seems more plausible is that the SEIU fears it will lose union control over the library system and its employees.

Would the SEIU rather see library hours sharply curtailed or have libraries close their doors? That is the real choice between contracting or not contracting for library services in many cities.

AB438, which is supported by SEIU and its allies in the Legislature, would place so many conditions and restrictions in the way that it would be virtually impossible for cities to contract for library services.

The bill stipulates that a city would have to demonstrate in advance that there would be substantial cost savings, and that there would be no displacement of city or library district employees.

Also, AB438 states that a contract shall not be approved solely on the basis that savings will result from lower contractor pay rates or benefits. Contracts would be eligible for approval if their wages are at the industry's level and do not undercut city or library district pay rates.

In other words, no union workers can be displaced and contractors must pay high union rates. If cities could afford to retain all employees and pay high wages, there would be no need to cut library services by contracting out.

Simply put, AB438 usurps elected city officials' responsibility to make decisions in the best interests of the public and instead forces them to do SEIU's bidding. The result is likely to be more library closures and the loss of library jobs.

Any legislator who places the public interest above the special interest of a government employee union would have no trouble voting against AB438. Unfortunately, there are not enough such lawmakers in Sacramento. We trust that the governor will put the public interest first and veto AB438 should it make it to his desk.