Is Michaud’s plan an economic boon or unaffordable Lamborghini?

Ethan: Did you see Democrat Mike Michaud’s “Maine Made” plan to strengthen Maine’s economy and grow jobs?

Phil: I did. Good to see that all three candidates for governor have published material, so political analysts like us have something to read during these freezing days of February.

Ethan: Freezing days of February? I’m in California, baby! Visiting my mother and enjoying some sand, sea and 70-degree sun!

Phil: Then what are you doing talking to me?

Ethan: Because even from 3,000 miles away, this plan has a progressive Democrat like me very pleased.

Phil: Which part of the plan has you so amped up?

Ethan: Which part? Let me count the ways: universal prekindergarten; a 25 percent reduction in college tuition; a 20 percent increase in the minimum wage; a tax code that truly helps the poor; a renewable energy program that will slow climate change and reduce energy costs; health care expansion for tens of thousands of families; and a billion-dollar investment in Maine’s infrastructure! A billion! We haven’t seen leadership in infrastructure like this since Dwight D. Eisenhower built our highways and our economy exploded!

Phil: OK. OK. Take a breath and let me make a few points. Let’s start with the university proposal. First, where is the fluff in the system where it could possibly pay for such an expense?

Ethan: The whole plan is paid for with just $15 million a year. The return on investment in college graduates and decreased debt will more than pay back the investment.

Phil: But didn’t the university just announce that it is $400 million behind in deferred maintenance?

Ethan: See the billion dollars in bonding!

Phil: Let’s see, first you want $150 million over 10 years for tuition; now you are saying the $400 million in deferred maintenance can be paid for with bonding? At what point do Democrats realize those who create the tax revenues aren’t feeling the love? They’re feeling more like a target.

Ethan: If businesses want one of the most educated workforces in the country, we have to invest. Imagine what will happen to our economy then.

Phil: OK, what about the other Maine colleges? They already compete with the state subsidy to the university system. Now they are going to be further disadvantaged.

Ethan: As you know, each system serves a very different clientele. Plus, Michaud’s plan calls for increased funding to community colleges, so they can offer classes year-round. This will get students into the workforce more quickly.

Phil: And what about private colleges? Hardly a free market when you take taxpayers’ money and use it to subsidize a competitor. You’re the king of ending corporate welfare; why is this any different?

Ethan: These are public schools. Corporate welfare is unfair when it goes to one private for-profit corporation over another, giving them a competitive advantage.

Phil: I don’t know. If we can give students a free year of university, why aren’t tuition costs lower for everyone now?

Ethan: Because it hasn’t been a priority. Plus, the goal isn’t simply lowering costs with this plan. The idea is to eliminate a targeted barrier. More kids drop out prior to their sophomore year than any other. That’s why the tuition reduction focuses on year two.

Phil: Now, how about the MaineCare plan to add another 70,000 people. We can’t pay for the current caseload. How are we supposed to pay for an expansion?

Ethan: We had this debate last week. The federal government is going to fund the first three years of expansion and 90 percent from there. People can read last week’s column if they truly want the debate, but let’s not tread worn-over ground.

Phil: I’d stop talking about it, but I am very concerned that your advocates are wrong about all the free money from D.C. And if they are, we will be in for a real financial crisis.

Ethan: OK, let’s get to the last few big items. Universal Pre-K, a minimum wage hike, infrastructure investments, and enhancing the Earned Income Tax Credit, so low-income Mainers can actually see a tax refund that they can spend in our economy. Anything there you like?

Phil: Anything I like? Sure. But I’d also like a Lamborghini. The issue isn’t like. The issue is showing taxpayers how we are going to continue what we’re doing and afford the Christmas tree of promises to the voters of Maine contained in “Maine Made.”

Ethan: I guess I don’t see education, livable wages and basic infrastructure as a luxury. I see these as musts if we want our great state to turn around. And I am glad someone agrees and has the courage to be clear on the costs and sacrifices we must make to get there.

Phil: More free stuff from Augusta and more costs inflicted on the private sector may be a winning campaign strategy. But hoping it all works out is not a winning management tool. Let’s think about the implications, including the incentive Maine has for people in their retirement years to move to a tax friendly state.

Ethan: Of course. But let’s also think of the implications of not acting. Not investing. Not sacrificing. An economy that continues to be stuck and a future that continues to leave too many behind.

Phil: You would make a more persuasive argument if past results were leading Maine in the direction you envision. Sounds like you’ve been spending too much time with Gov. Jerry Brown out there. Go back to your vacation, and we’ll continue this when you return.