When two fiscal policy experts get together for lunch, how do they settle the bill?
"We do pie charts to determine income levels and who makes more and ascribe a pro rata percentage as to who's going to pay," Ron Deutsch, the Fiscal Policy Institute executive director, joked.
Actually, on Thursday the meal was on the League of Women Voters who organized a discussion about the state budget at Chef's restaurant in Buffalo.
"The League of Women Voters is a large and extensive organization throughout New York state," Deutsch said. "They do incredible work. They inform voters on a wide variety of issues.”
The speakers were Deutsch, representing a more progressive philosophy, and E.J. McMahon from the Empire Center, who spoke about his more conservative approach.
"I don't want to see the budget balanced on the backs of low-income people who can least afford it," Deutsch said.
"I think the state's already overly dependent on very high-income taxpayers and would be dangerous to go higher," McMahon said.
Specifically, the discussion was about the overriding issue facing the state budget negotiations this year: How to close a projected $6 billion budget deficit. McMahon said the executive budget lays out a reasonable outline to do that.
"The governor has projected other reductions and spending increases that are largely appropriate, for instance, he's proposing a school aid increase of only $500 million or $600 million instead of $800 million or $900 million," he said.
The governor's Medicaid Redesign Team is supposed to find $2.5 billion in savings but McMahon points out the governor's budget proposal doesn't provide any details as to how they're supposed to do that.
"We don't know what that team is going to recommend," he said. "That's a mystery."
Deutsch, meanwhile, believes there are some other options to look at.
"I would like to see us increase taxes on the very wealthy," he said. "I also think that there's room to cut some spending, in particular around economic development programs."
The two experts have some basic philosophical differences but the debate was civil, even in an increasingly polarized political climate.
"It's good that people like E.J. and myself can still be friends and actually disagree on issues," Deutsch said.
Especially when they don't have to fight over the check.