Lewiston school budget battle highlights struggle with tax increases

Education funding can be a tricky subject when facing the taxpayer, because it presents the need for an impossible balance between funding our education system and not sinking the taxpayer. From here lies the debate on how government is spending the money and if there are other areas where the government can trim to accommodate proposed increases.

There’s no denying the need to have a top notch education for our children, who are our future. At the same time, we need to make sure our government is operating efficiently. An inefficient government is only going to hurt them down the road.

At a recent Lewiston City Council meeting, this became front and center.

Councilor Jim Lysen was quoted by the Sun Journal, supporting the tax increase proposals:

Lyson said he supports a reasonable budget that meets needs, and he’s tired of complaints about a growing student population. More is a good thing, he said.

Lewiston is an older community, agewise, and more youth are needed to support baby boomers, Lyson said.

“We should be celebrating a bigger population,” he said. More students from immigrant families add richness to the community. “I welcome the new population.”

The problem with this statement is a growing student population does place a strain on the taxpayer community. Nobody likes paying taxes, but many accept it because the basic functions of government require funding and many do want to invest in education.

The problem is that any given taxpayer only has so much to forfeit to the government and they still need to put food on the table for their families.

This is a point that City Councilor Tim Lajoie pointed out. The Sun Journal quoted part of his statement:

“When I look at the budget increase, I don’t like it,” Lajoie said. “You have to do better than that. People have only so much money. I expect more work and scrutiny.”

After the Sun Journal story, Councilor Lajoie posted his complete statement on his official Facebook page, that painted a clearer picture of the point:

I am an educator myself, I teach at a private college here in the state. So I am not anti-education. But, I have to advocate for the taxpayer. And the taxpayer’s family. When I look at this particular budget…and I see the increases…I don’t like it. I’ll be honest with you. I’ll be right up front about it. And I think you need to do better than that. I don’t know where you can cut it, and I don’t know what your restrictions are, but I don’t like what I see. And I am not anti-education. I am confronting the reality that the people I represent only have so much money. And you have a responsibility to make sure that the money they do give you is showing results.

If you can convince the community of that, I think they’d be more than happy to vote for your increase. But that’s a question you have to ask, “Are we meeting that burden?” Are the parents that have kids in school saying, “My son/daughter is getting the education I expect from the property tax contributions that I make?” You have to ask that question and you have answer it. I don’t have kids in the school system anymore. So, not really my dog in the hunt at this point. But from what I’m hearing and I’m seeing—as a taxpayer—those are my concerns. And I expect a lot more work and a lot more scrutiny in the process. I expect more input from the teachers who provide the service day-to-day. I don’t want to know what administration thinks. Frankly, I don’t care. I want to know what the teacher in the classroom thinks is the best thing for the 25 or so that they have in front of them.

This is not wrong. There’s nothing anti-immigrant or anti-education about this. What is being advocated for here is results, and allowing teachers to be more vocal in the process rather than having a bureaucratic political fight.

Children are often exploited by politicians to advocate for larger government and it doesn’t always help them. Better education is absolutely necessary, but better education is not necessarily synonymous with more spending. Councilors in Lewiston and taxpayers abroad need to be aware of this.

The community impact is going to be strong as well. Lewiston will feel it, as resident Cynthia Robbins was quoted in the Sun Journal as stating:

If taxes go up, it will hurt the elderly, the middle-aged middle class and young families with children who enroll their children in private schools, Robbins said. Higher taxes means people won’t buy Lewiston homes. “They end up in Sabattus and Lisbon and places like that,” she said.

Everybody is in the community together, and together everyone needs to be aware of the impact government has. We need better education, but we need to do so responsibly. Simply spending more on something doesn’t increase results.

If the Lewiston taxpayer is sounding the alarm on increases in a bad economy, it’s not because they hate children or immigrants. It’s because they’re paying enough. Taxpayers have their own families to fund, as well. This point is often lost in all of the political rhetoric that surrounds budget negotiations at any level of government.

Let’s put away the political rhetoric and focus on strengthening the community, by lessening the tax burden and improving education.

Chris Dixon

About Chris Dixon

Chris Dixon is a libertarian-leaning writer. In addition to writing "Undercover Porcupine", he is also the Managing Editor for The Liberty Conservative and writes for Cleat Geeks and Medium.