San Jose has already made thousands of headlines for dealing fiscal shortfalls. Now, the City could face the increased challenges of ballot box budgeting.

A ballot measure has been approved for circulation, and the signature gathering effort is underway to qualify a measure for the November 2012 ballot. The library funding measure would carve out general fund dollars for library funding at a minimum rate of .04 percent of the assessed property value, resulting in a massive increase to the city’s library budget. Based upon the approved language for the measure, it would increase the total general fund contribution to libraries by $19.4 million, or an increase of 86%. Overall library spending would increase to $52.9 million per year.

The proposed measure would raise funding for the libraries without including any additional revenues, creating a scenario that Mayor Chuck Reed says will be detrimental to city operations.

“San Jose residents shouldn’t be swayed by promises that this initiative will allow libraries to reopen without impacting other city departments,” said Reed. “That’s just not possible.”

According to information released by the City in conjunction with a statement from Mayor Reed, increasing the general fund expenditures on libraries by $19 million would require similar offsets. In terms of public safety, that $19 million could fund 100 police officers.

“I love our libraries,” said Reed in his statement. “I want to add library hours. I want to open our four never-opened branches. I just don’t support taking money from our police and fire departments to do so.”

The proposed measure comes as proponents of libraries face a looming 2014 expiration of a $25 parcel tax for libraries. Recent polling showed a lack of support for renewal. If the tax expired, libraries would lose nearly $7 million in funding.

When the parcel tax was first approved in 2004, it was supposed to eventually boost the budget for library services to $48 million. That increase wasn’t realized. Instead, the library budgets have been subjected to cuts during the last two years. Overall, library funding went from $39 million in 20010 to $33.5 million this year.

Should the ballot initiative fail and the parcel tax not be renewed, library budgets would fall to $26.5 million, or the city would have to increase the general fund contributions. Anticipating those increases would be even more difficult this year after Mayor Reed introduced the concept of a two-year budget cycle.

The switch to a two-year approach to budgeting can help negate massive swings in budgets by providing additional planning and direction, however, it makes unexpected changes to revenues challenging.