Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling (right). Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.

Ethan: With the impeachment trial behind us, do you have anything we could actually agree on this week?

Phil: I believe I do. Although that might make for a very short column.

Ethan: Some might say that is a good thing.

Phil: True. Last week, Gov. Janet Mills reversed course and has proposed to exempt 99 percent of Maine businesses from having to pay taxes on the Paycheck Protection Program loans they received. I am sure you will join me in congratulating Mills on this decision so our readers can now enjoy their weekend.

Ethan: (silence)

Phil: Yo! Strim?

Ethan: How is that after all these years you still don’t know me?

Phil: Know you? You’re my brother from another mother!

Ethan: As you might know by now, had you not been focusing on trying to be a comedian, I am not a big supporter of giving profitable businesses a tax rebate on taxes they never paid — otherwise known as corporate welfare.

Phil: Whilst you look for new ways to tax, we have had something called a pandemic this past year. Many businesses across Maine were forced to close. Anything we can do to help them keep their doors open is probably a good policy to pursue.

Ethan: Oh please. By definition, this cash windfall will only go to those businesses that turned a profit this year

Phil: If you want to talk about who should have received a loan in the first place, we are probably in agreement. Unless you are Apple or Jeff Bezos, or Strimling Consulting Services, many businesses crawled across the finish line this year. Any help they can get is good for the economy, and the workers we care about.

Ethan: If you (and Mills) were offering a program to help unprofitable businesses re-hire workers, or to help unemployed workers pay their rent, I might actually have sympathy.

Phil: You may not realize this, but unprofitable businesses don’t actually last that long. Helping those barely squeaking by is exactly what we need to do.

Ethan: When I was in the Legislature, we called this double dipping — getting a tax break on top of taxes you never paid. That is what is happening here, and you know it.

Phil: Double dipping to me looks like a business paying property taxes to the municipality, on top of the payroll taxes they pay to the feds, on top of the income taxes they pay to the state and fed. Add excise taxes, business equipment taxes, sales and use taxes, transfer taxes, and the ever-growing fees you have to pay every year just to keep your business open. Somehow, finding a way to give these folks back a tiny piece of the pie feels fine to me.

Ethan: A tiny piece? This will cost $82 million. 

Phil: Which, as you know, is less than 1 percent of the state budget. And thanks to former Gov. Paul LePage, there is a healthy balance in our reserves, so we don’t have to cut any of your precious programs to pay for this.

Ethan: Since when did the rainy day fund become so flush it can be used to spend on a program that will help profitable businesses become more profitable? 

Phil: If you are suggesting we reduce state spending to balance the budget, I am all ears. But, remember, the federal government has already sent Maine $1.25 billion for pandemic relief.

Ethan: Well, Mills is also suggesting that we take almost $20 million from increased federal reimbursements meant for health care and putting it to feed this corporate greed.

Phil: And here I thought I had found a nice easy topic for us to agree on. Spending money to help small businesses. Why is it always so hard?

Ethan: Well, our column is called “Agree to Disagree,” so maybe we just have to accept that some weeks you are wrong and some weeks I am right.

Phil: You are never right. Only left. 

Ethan: Maybe you are actually a comedian.