Phil: Google. Amazon. Nike.
Ethan: Let me guess. You are checking investments for your clients?
Phil: Teslar. General Electric. IBM.
Ethan: You are trying to memorize the 30 stocks of the Dow?
Phil: Southwest Airlines. Boeing. Lockheed Martin.
Ethan: You want to buy an airplane for your wife?
Phil: Costco. Cisco. Campbell Soup. Caterpillar.
Ethan: You like companies that start with the letter C!
Phil: Sherwin Williams. PetSmart. Mattel.
Ethan: Now you have lost me. I give up.
Phil: I’m naming just a few of the employers who have the capacity to invest $50 million in Maine in response to Gov. Paul LePage’s new “Open for Business Zones.” Did you hear about it?
Ethan: Hear about it? I am trying to forget. More corporate welfare plus some union bashing equals bad for our economy.
Phil: You don’t think incentivizing a company to invest $50 million in Maine and create 1,500 jobs is a good idea?
Ethan: I don’t think asking small businesses to pay the tax bill of big corporations who pay low wages is a good idea.
Phil: First of all. The tax breaks they receive would be from having to pay new taxes, not being excused from old ones (thereby, no tax increase on others). Second, no one is saying they should pay low wages. Just the opposite. In fact many of the companies I mention pay some of the highest wages in the country.
Ethan: Not in the states where they have similar laws allowing people to undermine the right of employees to form unions. The wages paid in those states come in at thousands of dollars less.
Phil: Which probably means they are able to create more jobs, which means lower unemployment than otherwise. Isn’t it better to have some jobs than no jobs? Wouldn’t more employers looking for workers create higher demand and the higher wages you want to mandate by law?
Ethan: Maine doesn’t have a shortage of low-paying jobs. Sadly, there is plenty of opportunity to earn less than you need in Maine. What there isn’t is an opportunity to make a wage that actually supports your family. So if you want to offer a tax break to a company and require it to pay above a certain rate, well, then I might be interested. Then you are using public dollars to build a stronger economy.
Phil: What we’re missing is a robust economy where workers who show up and do consistent quality work will earn more because employers don’t want to lose them to the competition. LePage’s proposal could create that dynamic. Now tell me how you reacted to LePage’s proposal to deliver reduced energy costs to these employers?
Ethan: Basically, I am not in favor of giving one business an advantage over another simply because they are bigger. Seems backwards to me. But honestly, we should really focus on reducing energy costs for small businesses across the board. They are the bread and butter of our economy, and trying to reduce their expenses really will help the economy.
Phil: Right on! Let’s have a conference call with your state Sen. Justin Alfond and tell him to pass LePage’s bill to allow hydro power from Quebec into Maine, so all of us can enjoy lower electric rates immediately. While we’re on the horn with him we can lobby him to stop the corporate welfare you rail against for solar and wind subsidies.
Ethan: Hey, you get rid of the subsidies to big oil, and maybe we can start talking. But tell me why my party should support a policy that allows special rules for one company to undermine employees’ right to form a union and earn a better wage?
Phil: I empathize with you. Inviting change and new thinking is tough when the party faithful insist that you get their vote in exchange for your unwavering votes to support their demands that preserve the past. My side has them, too.
Ethan: The difference between us is that your side wants people to be on their own. My side understands that government has a role to protect people’s rights, especially around workers’ wages and benefits.
Phil: So why not embrace LePage’s plan, welcome the 1,500 jobs and then require the union to earn the support of the employees to form a union? Lepage’s proposal doesn’t deny your side from unionizing; it simply doesn’t require it.
Ethan: That’s not quite right. Every union has to earn the support of employees. What LePage’s change attempts to do is allow people to benefit from union contracts without having to pay for that service. It would be like saying half of your employees have to pay the retirement benefits for all of your employees. And remember, your party also rejected these anti-union rules when you controlled the Legislature.
Phil: Don’t remind me. But why wouldn’t we give this a try?
Ethan: It is bad policy. It’s costly to taxpayers and encourages lower wages. I simply don’t want to subsidize out-of-state corporations at the expense of workers and existing Maine businesses.
Phil: That leaves us right where we are with no $50 million investment and no new jobs.
Ethan: Building an economy is layered. Magic bullets don’t work. I didn’t support Pine Tree Zones when my party proposed them. And time has proven that they aren’t paying off. Let’s not make the same mistake twice.