Fri, Dec 19, 2014 ●
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Forecaster Forum: LePage budget fails communities, students

Opinion

Forecaster Forum: LePage budget fails communities, students

It is time to stand up for our values. As Mainers, we highly value education, responsibility and fairness. Along with many others, we believe that our state budget needs to reflect these shared values. Our budget should support working families and create pathways to success for future generations.

The greatest investment we can make for our future is to provide the best learning experience for students. We need to make sure that Maine’s schools and classrooms provide the best learning environment for our young people to reach their full potential. The way to do this is to support our teachers and provide our schools with the tools necessary for a first class education – and the money needed to acquire these tools.

This is why supporting public school systems is a priority for the Democrats in the Maine Legislature. We understand that putting students first means strengthening classrooms, not underfunding and undermining them. We know that we should be looking at what we can improve and what we can do to encourage student achievement. We also recognize that investing in education not only is important in preparing young people for the real world, but it is the best economic stimulator and job creation program that we have.

However, schools in Maine face a serious threat from the governor’s proposed budget. While Gov. Paul LePage claims that schools would be flat funded over the next biennium, the truth is as a result of proposed changes and budget slight-of-hand gimmicks, his budget will essentially cut $40 million for funding public schools over the next two years. This is something our future cannot afford.

The biggest problem with the governor’s proposed budget is that he wants to shift new costs from the state to local school districts. These are costs the state has covered, but the governor’s budget would suddenly thrust them upon local school districts. That would make communities responsible for millions of dollars of additional costs.

Portland will receive more than $1.1 million less in education funding for fiscal year 2013-2014 than it did for the previous fiscal year. Over the next two years, the city will have to make up for more than $2.5 million in funding it won’t receive. This is the governor’s way of pushing off responsibility by shifting the burden on our communities.

Whether the city of Portland chooses to raise property tax or cut school programs, public safety or public works, the governor’s proposed budget puts our community in a very bad situation. By raising property taxes, middle-class families are unfairly burdened. By cutting school programs, our young people are not receiving the best education they can receive. Our future leaders need to be given the best opportunity to succeed and reach their full potential.

The governor’s approach to budgeting lacks what Maine needs to improve our economy. His one-size-fits-all method undermines communities and shortchanges our students. We need to look forward by supporting our students and teachers. By underfunding our classrooms, we are doing a disservice to the future.

What Maine needs is a responsible budget that ensures we spend our limited resources in the best way possible and that all Mainers pay their fair share. The wealthiest should be doing their part to give others the chance to succeed and lawmakers should stand up for smart solutions that are right for Maine people and are fair for all.

Democratic state Sen. Anne Haskell is serving her first term in the Maine Senate and represents District 9 in Portland and part of Westbrook. Rep. Matthew Moonen, also a Democrat, is serving his first term in the Maine House of Representatives and represents District 118 in Portland.