AUGUSTA -- A coalition of activists gathered Thursday in the State House Hall of Flags to call for an end to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a way to help pay for needed state programs.
The groups say Maine taxpayers have already spent $2.5 billion on the wars. Their estimate is that Maine makes an annual contribution of $320 million toward those conflicts.
This week, hundreds of citizens have come to the State House to protest proposed cuts in the state budget to help fill a $438 million gap. Many of the cuts are to human services and education.
"We are calling for cuts in war spending as a way to help Maine state government deal with this crisis," said Lisa Savage, representing a group called Code Pink.
Savage, a teacher in central Maine, said she used a personal day to come to the State House for the rally and to protest proposed cuts to education funding.
She said the Bring Our War Money Home coalition has launched a three-month campaign to spread their message across the state. The coalition includes Maine Veterans for Peace, Pax Christi Maine, Peace Action Maine and Waterville Area Bridges for Peace & Justice.
Former Sen. Michael Brennan of Portland said he and a dozen other legislators called for an end to the wars more than three years ago.
"I'm sorry to say we were right in our prognosis three and a half years ago," he said. "The state of Maine and this country is in a more dire situation than it was."
Brennan said cuts to education funding, both K-12 and higher education, have continued to chip away at the quality of schools.
"In the 1970s, this country led the world in the number of people that graduated from high school," he said. "Now we're not even in the top 10."
In the future, Brennan said he'd like Maine to be known less for building warships and more for providing a high-quality education.
"My dream is that we will soon become the state known for building universities, building schools, and educating our young people," he said. "And we become No. 1 in the world in that, not in building ships and destroyers."