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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.
Phil: Do you remember a few weeks back when you failed to convince me that rent control was a good idea?
Ethan: I do. So close minded. I also remember the following week when you failed to make a cogent argument against raising the minimum wage.
Phil: A lost cause. This week, I noticed there is something else on the Portland ballot called a “Green New Deal.” Before I come to the conclusion that this may be a downward spiral for the economy, can you let me know what in the world it does?
Ethan: Sure. It slows climate change, improves working conditions and creates more affordable housing. Why would anyone oppose something like that?
Phil: How about you provide a few details on how we achieve this utopia you envision. I imagine there must be a few transformational edits by regulators.
Ethan: In a nutshell, the ordinance has three provisions. The first is that it strengthens environmental standards for all buildings constructed, in whole or in part, with taxpayer money.
Phil: Don’t you think it would be better to just let the market encourage this? Technology is getting better by the minute, and when you mandate regulations, it just creates more hurdles for developers to overcome. And more hurdles means higher costs. How will you reach the goal of more “affordable” housing?
Ethan: I’ll get to that in a minute. The environmental standards simply update a code that hasn’t been improved for over a decade. And if we aren’t more aggressive on climate change, nothing else will matter.
Phil: And if you overregulate entrepreneurs, nothing else will matter either. What’s the second provision?
Ethan: It requires contractors who get taxpayer money to pay workers the same prevailing wage the state now requires, ensure they are trained in basic safety and have an apprenticeship program to train workers and reduce costs.
Phil: Let the robust construction market establish the best wages and places to work. Workplace safety is always a priority. No employer I know wants to call a spouse or a parent to tell them their loved one died on the job. But your requirements for apprentices is clearly a bow to unions who all have such programs, while non-union employers often do not.
Ethan: Not true. As much as I wish these new rules meant only union labor could be hired, tons of non-union businesses have apprenticeship programs. And any company that wants one can merely call the Department of Labor to create it. The state even pays some of the cost for the training of your employees.
Phil: No matter how you spin it, by creating this requirement, you limit the pool of who will be available to bid on these projects. Limiting bids, increases costs for taxpayers.
Ethan: Except studies are clear that costs do not increase with provisions like this.
Phil: Do I dare ask what the third provision does?
Ethan: You do. It increases our requirement for large developments to build affordable housing to 25 percent, from 10 percent. Many service-center cities like ours, require between 20 percent and 30 percent, so the ordinance took a reasonable midway point.
Phil: Twenty-five percent! Do you have any idea how much that will increase the cost of the units that aren’t affordable? You are going to create buildings with people having to buy million-dollar condos to pay for the ones that are affordable to families struggling to get by.
Ethan: People are already buying million-dollar condos, and that money isn’t going to help anyone.
Phil: So let me see if I understand this proposal clearly. More regulations, city mandated wages, higher home prices for some to subsidize others?
Ethan: Or, expressed another way, as I said above, it slows climate change, improves working conditions and creates more affordable housing.
Phil: Well, as I said above, this sounds like a downward economic spiral that leads to losing population the way places like New York City are losing population. Sorry, I can’t support this one either.
Ethan: Well, you did support the facial surveillance ban, so that’s one of four. Be interesting to see where you land on the final one, restricting short-term rentals.