School budget validation process working as designed
Voters in Monmouth, Sabattus, Lamoine, Lubec and Cape Elizabeth have yet to approve school budgets for the coming year, despite several trips to the ballot box by voters in all five towns. To the Lewiston Sun Journal’s way of thinking, these exercises in direct democracy have become too messy and time-consuming. Positions have “cemented,” according to the paper, with “stalemate” as the result. The paper goes on to suggest that the legislature rescue voters from their difference of opinion by developing some type of “budget mediation” process that “prompts discussion of a mutually acceptable solution,” and lets “cooler heads prevail.” The paper is light on the details of this approach, most notably with regard to whether the decision of some as-yet undefined but presumably cooler-headed mediating body would have the force of law and thus replace a vote of the public. If so, count us out.
Democracy is messy. It takes too much time and does indeed lead to a “cementing of positions among townspeople.” But it also works. The towns in question will ultimately come to a consensus on their budgets, because they have no other choice. When they do, they, and the rest of Maine, will be better off for having taken the time to do it right.
The repeated failure of school budgets in a handful of towns across Maine is a cause for celebration, not concern. It means that people are involved, that they are invested in their schools and communities, and that they are committed to making their voices heard. This is a good thing, and one of the main reasons the budget validation process was adopted in the first place.