Ethan: Between the two of us, we have 14 years experience in the state Senate. In all our combined years, have you ever seen the Legislature compromise in such a night-and-day approach as we’ve seen this past week?
Phil: You speak of course about the latest supplemental budget in which Republicans at first opposed the fiscally irresponsible spending Democrats attached to the governor’s bill to stabilize our rainy day fund, and then unanimously supported at 3 a.m., as long as it was in another bill. To paraphrase your favorite playwright, “Spending by any other name, is still spending….”
Ethan: Yeah, although I’d probably compare their behavior to an Abbott and Costello skit like “Who’s on First?” before I’d quote Shakespeare. In the end, the good news is that spending for the hard of hearing, Head Start, low-income college students, new Mainers was restored. Plus, they closed $60 million of the deficit.
Phil: You forgot to mention pay increases to state employees, even more aid to your friends at the Maine Municipal Association, and the remaining $30 million in deficit reduction still needed.
Ethan: The spending to which you refer restores cuts to schools, and the raises were negotiated by the governor. And it’s all paid for.
Phil: Yeah, paid for with tax increases and budget gimmicks. A tax increase on businesses in Pine Tree zones and those who are doing research and development. Plus, it takes one-time money from the end of Dirigo (thank God that mess is finally over) to pay for ongoing expenses.
Ethan: Gimmicks? Most of it is paid for through surpluses from unspent accounts. This is the exact same way the governor paid for his spending!
Phil: A one-time expense into a rainy day fund is a bit different than using one-time money for an expense that will continue once that money has dried up, and you know it.
Ethan: Oh, you mean like taking one-time money out of the rainy day fund to close an ongoing budget problem? As Republicans did in their 2011 budget and as they did last month to restore revenue sharing to municipalities!
Phil: Now that you say it, many Republican legislators did. But the shenanigans have to end somewhere. Gov. Paul LePage calls out irresponsible Republican budgets just as much as Democratic budgets. I expect as much from your side. I just wish Republicans would refuse to collaborate with these latest shenanigans.
Ethan: Nice of them to always be so frugal when the spending cuts hurt the neediest while turning a blind eye when the spending increases go to their pet projects like corporate welfare, arming forest rangers, and a continuation of the failed War on Drugs. Somehow they always find the money for that.
Phil: Look, I am the first to admit that everyone spends too much (although your party definitely gets higher marks), but in this instance the governor proposed something simple, fiscally responsible and nonpartisan. But then your side decided to turn it upside down, and my party acquiesced.
Ethan: First of all, holding the bonds hostage to one’s demands, whatever they are, is definitely not “non-controversial.” Second, politics is about give-and-take. Whether it be the budget or health care expansion, both parties have to give to get.
Phil: Ethan, if the bonds sell to the public at a lower interest rate, that’s less interest we have to pay. A higher interest rate means more costs to borrow.
Ethan: None of the markets have even hinted that putting $21 million in our rainy day fund will make one iota of difference in interest rates. But even if it did, Democrats voted to restore the funding exactly as the governor wanted. So why is he so opposed?
Phil: We don’t know the cost until we go to sell the bonds. Putting our finances in the best possible light is exactly what LePage is doing. And he objected because Democrats then added $18 million in new spending!
Ethan: As I said about 500 words ago, all they did was restore funding to programs that were cut when we thought there was less money.
Phil: So in the give-and-take you expect in politics, why is it that your solution is always to take more money from those who create, invest and work, and then give it to the government, which then takes a cut before giving it to organizations that take a cut before giving it to those in need?
Ethan: I don’t accept your premise that my solution is “always to take” anymore than that is your solution, even though Republicans “take” just as much as anyone. But regardless, the issue is compromise. Compromise means you get some of what you want, and I get some of what I want. Democracy demands it, and the electorate is tired of elected officials who won’t work together. Which is probably why Republicans did the right thing in the end and acquiesced to Democratic demands.
Phil: Our combined Senate service spans almost a decade-and-a-half and, unfortunately, the art of compromise has gotten us to the state we are in. Spending races skyward, education results are falling, welfare rolls are expanding. It is time to change our expectations of government and demand something different, even if that means making some people angry.
Ethan: Wow. Not sure I ever imagined I would hear you say compromise was a bad thing.
Phil: Let’s just say it has been a long winter.