TRENTON, NJ - The “New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act,” sponsored by Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman, (R-16) has passed the State Senate and how heads to Governor Christie’s desk.
The legislation would give voters the ability to approve funds for the repair, construction or expansion of local libraries.
“Public libraries bridge the digital divide, by providing internet access, computer classes and job training for people of all ages and economic backgrounds,” Bateman said. “They can’t continue to offer these services without funding for upgrades. It’s been 15 years since the last bond act. We can jump-start the economy and quickly create hundreds of construction jobs if we give voters the OK to join the fight to keep libraries alive.”
The bill authorizes $125 million in general obligation bonds to provide grants for construction, expansion and upgrades to New Jersey’s public libraries. The grants would pay for half the cost of constructing or upgrading a library, with local governments covering the other half. The State Librarian would establish eligibility criteria for the receipt of grants.
“This bill addresses a critical need,” said Michael Cerra, assistant executive director of the NJ League of Municipalities. “Many public libraries in New Jersey are simply outdated and cannot accommodate modern technologies. The NJ Library Construction Bond Act will, if agreed upon by the voters, provide an appropriate revenue source and thus diminish the financial impact on local governing entities.”
“The New Jersey Library Association is thrilled that this legislation has passed both houses and we would like to thank the members of Legislature, particularly the sponsors, for their support,” said Pat Tumulty, NJLA executive director. “Many public libraries in New Jersey have a critical need to expand or upgrade their facilities. We look forward to the passage of the Bond Act in November so that this funding will be available to transform public libraries in communities throughout our state.”
The bond act would have to be approved by voters, which Bateman noted is critical to protecting the public’s right to decide how the government is spending their money.
The bill must be signed by the Governor at least 70 days before the next general election in order to appear on the ballot.
Currently, aid for libraries only amounts to 42 percent per capita. Although there were as many as 44 million visits to New Jersey libraries last year, many have been forced to reduce their hours or forego much-needed upgrades due to a lack of funding; 78 percent of libraries are in need of some repairs, according to Bateman.
“Fifty percent of New Jersey libraries are not ADA accessible. Everyone, regardless of their capabilities, should have access to their local library,” Bateman said.
“Libraries are not just for storing books. They are safe havens during natural disasters, career centers and gathering places for new neighbors. We simply cannot afford to lose these invaluable community resources. Our children and grandchildren should know what it’s like to grow up with a library nearby. I am confident that, if given the opportunity, voters will do the right thing,” Bateman added.