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: How do you keep calm with Republican hypocrisy all around you? They preach fiscal responsibility and prepare for rainy days. Yet the minute the state gets extra cash, you want to just give it all away.

Phil: You mean return the overcharge to the taxpayer? The $822 million “surplus” is our money that we could use to address skyrocketing inflation now. With the Rainy Day Fund now secure at almost half a billion, we are Taxed Enough Already (TEA).

Ethan: Huh? One of the reasons you have opposed all these stimulus bills is because you felt they would overheat the U.S. economy and lead to inflation.

Phil: Do you ever tire of me being correct?

Ethan: Inflation is up all over the world, so that’s not true. But regardless, if you feel injecting cash into the economy has fueled inflation, why would you want to inject almost a billion more into Maine’s?

Phil: Because, putting a few hundred bucks into the pockets of Maine’s families is a drop in the bucket of Maine’s $67 billion economy. Look, my philosophy is simple: Maine people need to prepare for their own rainy day. Give it back to them so they can create jobs, build homes, get an education, and prepare for retirement.

Ethan: Giving a family a check for a few hundred dollars will do none of that. Especially ones that are already doing fine financially. Republicans need to stop looking for election-year gimmicks and make investments that will pay back over time. Things like paid family leave, free community college, affordable housing and shelters for our homeless.

Phil: The government is going to pay for paid leave? You want to put private colleges and universities out of business? We already have government bureaucracies empowered to create affordable housing and house the homeless. Why are these still problems? These good times are not going to last, let’s not create more programs that will saddle future taxpayers when the bubble bursts.

Ethan: I have no problem spreading the money out over time. With $800 million, we could fully fund Sen. Mattie Daughtry’s paid family and medical leave program for a decade, plus eliminate community college tuition for 15,000 students for 10 years, and still have enough to inject $100 million into our affordable housing tax credit program and for new shelters. That gives us enough time to build reserves from payments made by employees and employers that will last decades.

Phil: “Payments made by employees and employers.” Otherwise known as new taxes. You rest my case, once again. You want to create programs that will ultimately be shifted onto the backs of taxpayers. As nice as all this sounds, someone always has to pay for it sooner or later. I am trying to avoid the later part.

Ethan: I think you are actually trying to avoid these kinds of programs altogether, because there is no fiscal reason not to do it. Imagine the impact on our economy if the governor could tell America: “If you move to Maine, community college will be free. And if you work in Maine, you will have 12 weeks to care for your newborn or to take care of an aging parent.”

Phil: I think most Americans would say, “Getting paid leave in Maine for a job that doesn’t exist does me no good, but attending community college there for free so I can move back to Texas for this great job would be awesome!”

Ethan: Boy, no matter what the government program, you don’t like it. I guess I can’t really call you a hypocrite.

Phil: Much appreciated.