AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Budget issues are front and center as the state legislature gets down to work. One of the first decisions is whether to approve $12.5 million in curtailment cuts to education funding, and it's getting ready for both the governor's supplemental and biennial budgets. Those education cuts are getting some stiff opposition.
Maine's teacher's union, the Maine Education Association, has been very critical of the governor's policies. And Tuesday the MEA joined with Portland's mayor, Michael Brennan, to call the governor to task for the proposed education cuts. In 2004, Maine voters approved a measure that says the state is supposed to fund 55 percent of local education costs. But that has never happened. And MEA president Lois Kilby-Chesley says this curtailment order, cutting $12.5 million from the education budget, will hurt students, as districts consider turning down thermostats and laying off teachers to balance their budgets. Brennan, meanwhile, says these cuts mean the governor is not giving education its proper weight.
"The budget is always a question of priorities, not a question of revenue. And what the governor is saying now is that K-12 is not his priority, but it's something he's willing to cut," Brennan said.
Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen called that statement "laughable." Bowen said the state's share of general purpose aid to education has actually risen during the LePage administration. He said these cuts to education are unfortunate, but there aren't many places to go when education and health and human services make up so much of the budget.
"When you're trying to find 30 plus million dollars of savings in the middle of the year, there are not many places to go," Bowen said.
Ultimately, the legislature has to approve the curtailment cuts to education. Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall says Democrats, who control the legislature, are determined to make a smaller cut. But he acknowledges there will be a cut to education as part of this curtailment. He won't say how big.