Ethan: OK, buddy. The moment is here. No more delay. No amendments allowed or caveats permitted. Assuming you were governor, would you sign or veto the budget coming out of the Legislature? I would sign it.
Phil: With your edict as the last word, Maine would once again pull more money out of the private sector to duct tape a budget together, which perpetuates our reputation as a government-first economy. You can mark me down for a veto.
Ethan: Well, you know as well as I do, that if they hadn’t raised taxes in the state budget, property taxes would have shot up. Your party’s version simply would have pushed the problem elsewhere.
Phil: This is where we were politically separated at birth. We will look back at this moment as a lost opportunity for the Legislature to make basic changes that could inspire welfare recipients to move onward and upward and to adopt changes in education that appeal to students who learn today from technology. At this point in the legislative session, no one should be surprised that the only solution the Legislature found was to raise taxes.
Ethan: I have to say, I do find it remarkable that Democrats, let alone Republicans, have found the courage to support such a substantial amount of new revenue to ensure our budget meets the basic needs of our state. For six years I tried in vain to get my colleagues to do this as an alternative to all the cuts being proposed that decimated the poor and crunched the middle class.
Phil: Show me the decimated poor you speak of. Our welfare benefits are among the most generous in the U.S. Meanwhile your decades-long tactic of more government, more taxes and more maligning of those who build and work got the message. They have sold, merged and moved out, leaving the middle class with fewer opportunities and dwindling hope.
Ethan: Phil, former Gov. John Baldacci’s last state budget had 1,000 fewer state employees than his first. And almost one in four children under five live in poverty. But can we please get back to debating the budget? Although there is often much to dislike in budgets, I actually find quite a bit to like in this one. For instance, I really like that they restored education funding to the level it was two years ago.
Phil: We leave in place a failed welfare system where we have good intentions, with bad results. Why didn’t the Legislature implement programs that incentivize good results, like attending school every day, healthy lifestyle choices and rewarding a day’s work? Once again, in the name of compassion, those who qualify for welfare are rewarded for just the opposite?
Ethan: Are you blaming the 2014-15 budget on that doughnut you ate this morning?
Phil: I ate yogurt, thank you for asking. My point is that once again the Legislature took a pass on using the budget to restore dignity and a helping hand to lift people up onto the ladder of success. They built a moat around the status quo, believing a better day is coming.
Ethan: You are definitely waxing poetic with the analogies this morning. I also like that they are getting rid of $40 million worth of corporate loopholes and limiting deductions for the wealthy. Both of these will help to lessen the widening gap between the rich and the rest of us.
Phil: These so-called loopholes were designed to create good outcomes for infrastructure improvements, employment incentives, a growing middle class and new property tax revenues. Instead we have left many job creators feeling like we lured them in, and then we decry them as corporate welfare barons.
Ethan: I agree they were designed to create good outcomes, but the problem is they haven’t. A good conservative like you should be looking for accountability from these corporations while decrying simple handouts.
Phil: Your rhetoric is not going to rejuvenate Maine.
Ethan: I don’t think anyone’s rhetoric has that power. I think investments will rejuvenate Maine, which again is why I support this budget. It invests in education, Head Start, hospitals, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, job training, dairy farmers and many other sectors of our economy that desperately need help.
Phil: These “investments” haven’t delivered the results we all crave, yet they are the bedrock of what our Legislature tells us is the solution: “Just raise taxes.”
Ethan: OK, so we know you would have vetoed this budget. How would your budget have been different?
Phil: I would have given municipalities a year’s notice regarding the cut to revenue sharing, so they could actually reduce spending. Further, I would have restructured many of the special revenue accounts, so they could have been released to balance the budget. Going further, I would include a wage package for teachers that apply statewide. Why does a teacher in Yarmouth earn more than the same teacher in Millinocket, but then the state has to pay for their different pensions?
Ethan: If you think people are annoyed with the budget that the Appropriations Committee reported out, I can’t imagine what they would say to the above. I’m sticking with the Democrats’ version.