Frozen snowshoe tracks cross the landscape at Capitol Park at at the State House in Augusta on March 16, 2023. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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It seems like I write about unintended consequences every three years.  

They strike again.

With all the ongoing fights over books in public schools, one school in Utah is reviewing whether to remove the Bible from its bookshelves. It is governed by a “sensitive material” law passed in 2022.

In fairness, there are parts of the Bible that are pretty racy. The Song of Songs most notably.

“I have taken off my robe — must I put it on again? I have washed my feet — must I soil them again? My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him.”

I’m sure the Utah Legislature did not have Christianity’s Holy Book in mind when it passed the law.  

Similarly, back in 2005, the Maine Legislature enacted a cap on spending growth to control future spending. Then-Reps. Janet Mills and Troy Jackson voted in favor of it. They likely intended to create structural reform in state government.

Now that pesky law is causing problems for its former boosters.

Last week, the Democrats flexed their political power and enacted what they describe as a “current services budget” over the objections of Republicans. Then, in a show of kabuki theater, they “adjourned” the Legislature as if their work was done.

The Constitution allows the governor to call the Legislature back on “extraordinary occasions.”  So the very next day, Gov. Mills issued a proclamation calling Senate President Troy Jackson and other legislators back into a “special” session to ostensibly work on “new” issues that made a special session necessary.  

One of those “new” issues is a “supplemental” budget. Which can be passed without any Republican votes, with one very big caveat.

For the Democrats to push ahead with their plans, they need to get around the spending cap they supported in 2005. They can do so easily from a technical standpoint. It is just a pesky law and legislators are known as “lawmakers” for a reason.

Yet that would give Republicans one of the best platforms they have had in awhile.

It seems like everything is more expensive today. Food, energy, gas, vehicles, you name it. Costs are up for Maine households. Once Augusta paid the fabled “55 percent state share” of public education costs, one thing that was supposed to slow down was the collection of tax dollars.

Back in 2005, when the spending cap was enshrined in law, Maine spent $8,229.51 per student on education. Controlling for inflation, that would equal $12,243.54 in 2022.

So how much did we actually spend per student in 2022? $17,999.  

Augusta will never run out of good ideas on which to spend Mainers’ money. You will always be able to do more with more. And if that is what Democrats believe, they should simply repeal the spending cap altogether and own that policy.

Republicans can offer the alternative.  

Education battles are growing throughout the state. Parents are becoming more vocal about their concerns; the perception that academics are taking a “back seat” to other priorities is alarming.

Returning power to Maine families and households should be the lodestar of the GOP. Rather than wrestling over book lists, parents should be empowered to select schools that work best for their students instead of being held hostage by their ZIP code. $18,000 per student can go far.

With spending, Maine House and Senate Republicans should be persistent in their calls to return amounts above the Democrats’ spending cap to Maine taxpayers. If Democrats choose not to heed the advice, then November 2024 will present voters with a clear choice.

Whatever the consequences for both sides, they will then be very much intended.

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Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.