On May 30th, and without fanfare, state government sent the residents of Lewiston, Auburn and several other cities a message: You should raise more money to support your schools.
And if you don't, the state told the cities, we will start penalizing you in 2016-2017 by withdrawing state support to your schools.
The message came in the form of LD 667, and the message wasn't open to other interpretations, according to Rep. Joyce Maker of Calais, the bill's author.
Now, telling other people to raise their taxes is pretty nervy, but Maker wasn't being hypocritical. Her own school district isn't, by her definition, doing enough to fund its schools.
Maker isn't exactly a tax-and-spend liberal from some wealthy coastal community.
She represents Baileyville, Baring, Calais, Charlotte and Pleasant Point, Passamaquoddy Indian Township, Perry, Robinson and the unorganized territory of North Washington, all in Washington County.
And she's also a Republican.
While Maker is a retired college administrator and financial aid director at Washington County Community College, she doesn't consider herself a big spender.
She told the Sun Journal she just feels very strongly about education, and that a proper education isn't possible without a proper amount of spending.
"It really bothered me that some communities were not contributing to their children's education at the required share amount," she said in her testimony before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee of the legislature.
"I was determined to try to fix it."
First, she thought about immediately forcing cities like Lewiston, Auburn, Biddeford and Augusta to stop under-funding their schools.
But, she said she realized some communities would have a hard time raising the required share right off the bat.
So, the bill she wrote allows communities to take baby steps toward this goal, raising about a third of the total for three years beginning in 2014-2015.
"You may ask, why should the local communities pay their share when the state and the federal government do not," she said. "This is very simple. They are OUR children. . . . The students don't deserve any less."
And you know what? Our anti-tax governor, Paul LePage, agreed that some communities are not putting enough money into education. He signed Maker's bill on May 30th.
That was after it was approved overwhelmingly by both houses of the Maine Legislature, by both Democrats and Republicans.
In the House, 42 Republicans voted to force about 30 school units, out of more than 230 in the state, to raise their taxes, compared to 13 Republicans who voted against. The measure passed 110 to 29.
In the Senate, 18 Republicans joined 15 Democrats in approving Maker's bill. Conservatives like Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, and Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, joined liberals like Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, in approving the tax-hike measure.
Lewiston-Auburn legislators were like a wall of opposition to the tax increase. Sen. John Cleveland and Reps. Mike Beaulieu, Mike Carey, Mike Lajoie, Nathan Libby, Margaret Rotundo and Wayne Werts were all opposed.
Only Sen. Brian Bolduc of Auburn favored Maker's bill.
The goal, according to Maker, is to force districts to meet the Essential Program and Services standard set by the state, which is a minimum amount originally approved by the Legislature in 2004.
The purpose of EPS, according to David Silvernail at the University of Southern Maine, is to determine how much money is necessary to provide a child with a basic education and then how much of that should be raised locally and how much by the state.
Many argue that Lewiston and Auburn, because of our lower property values and tax base, cannot raise as much money as a wealthier community like Falmouth or Scarborough.
And the EPS formula acknowledges that by requiring poorer communities to raise less tax money toward EPS and wealthier communities to raise more.
Many complain that the Legislature has not fulfilled its own obligation to pay for 55 percent of the cost of local education in Maine. But they may not realize that the state already pays more than 50 percent of the cost in Lewiston, Auburn and many other poorer communities.
But the 2004 law also required local communities to do their proportionate share. Lewiston and Auburn would have been required to do this several years ago if not for a waiver passed in 2009.
Silvernail said the waiver was meant to be a temporary measure in response to the recession.
So, Maker's amendment does not create a new EPS obligation, it simply lifts the waiver that certain communities have had that allowed them to receive full state funding without raising their share.
Maker's goal was to gradually remove the waiver in three steps starting in 2014-2015.
As a result, Auburn will not be penalized even if it doesn't raise more money for schools for 2013-2014.
But in coming years, failing to do so will result in an increasing large penalty until, in 2016-2017, the state will begin taking two dollars away for every dollar the local community does not provide.
Lewiston voters took a gradual step toward meeting the EPS goal on May 14th by approving a 7.2 percent increase.
A month later, on June 14th, Auburn voters rejected a similar increase, 6.9 percent. Auburn will trim that request and try again in a few weeks.
But taxpayers should realize that unless state law changes, they are only delaying a tax increase largely imposed by legislators from the 80 percent of communities already meeting the EPS mark.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.