ANNAPOLIS -- Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, thinks the "City that Reads" ought to be willing to pay for the opportunity.
Mr. Lapides wants to add as much as a dime to the city's $5.95 property tax rate, with the proceeds dedicated to the branch operations of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
But Mr. Lapides wants city voters to decide. He introduced legislation yesterday authorizing the City Council to ask voters in a referendum whether they would agree to a property tax increase of as much as 10 cents to establish a library fund.
Each penny added to the city tax rate would bring in about $800,000, so a full dime would raise $8 million -- enough to cover the entire budgets of the branches, he said.
Last November, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced that reductions in state aid to the city left him no choice but to cut $1.3 million from libraries and permanently close eight of the Pratt's 28 branches. But last month, the library announced it had found enough money to keep all of the branches open through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Mr. Lapides, whose wife is a retired Pratt librarian, predicted that city voters would support higher taxes for such a purpose, saying they would clearly understand and appreciate the use of the money.
Mr. Schmoke, who has not seen the senator's bill, would support a "library tax" only if it were statewide, such as one recently enacted in Ohio, according to mayoral spokesman Clinton R. Coleman.
If the proposal called for a surcharge only on the city, he said, "the tax could put us in worse shape with middle-income people than we are already."
Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, chairman of the city's Senate delegation, said that he applauded any effort to keep the libraries open but that the best cure would be for the city to persuade the legislature to send a steady stream of dependable state aid its way.