Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is not running for President (and that’s o.k.—we’ve got Bernie, and that’s plenty for me!). But it would be fun and instructive to pit the Minnesota Democrat against his Wisconsin counterpart Scott Walker, who is seeking the Republican Presidential nomination. What have their parties’ policies done for their states?
Dayton and Walker both took office on January 3, 2011. Both tackled their state’s fiscal and economic problems with divergent policy responses that seem to epitomize their parties’ priorities. Democrat Dayton raised taxes on the rich, targeted tax cuts on the working class, and raised the minimum wage. Republican Scott Walker cut taxes on the rich and cut spending on public education and working-class benefits.
As those policies have had time to work, numerous writers have noticed that Minnesota is beating Wisconcin. Madison advocate Jimmy Anderson saw his state’s economy declining in October 2014:
The results have been lackluster at best. Wisconsin job growth has ranked at or near the bottom of the Midwest, personal income growth has been last in the Midwest and 44th nationally, and the budget is in shambles.
…The truth is we are falling behind. Our transportation budget has a $750 million hole in it, our healthcare budget is $760 million in the red, and that’s all on top of a $1.8 billion general budget deficit. Add it up and Walker has essentially taken a balanced budget and turned it into a deficit nearly as large as the one created by the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression [Jimmy Anderson, “Scott Walker Has Failed Wisconsin, and Minnesota Is the Proof,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Purple Wisconsin, 2014.10.22].
…while Minnesota is chugging along quite healthily:
In fact, during Walker’s tenure, Minnesota has blown Wisconsin out of the water when it comes to job growth. From March 2011 to March 2014, Minnesota has created 20,000 more jobs than Wisconsin. And the gap is widening even faster with Minnesota creating 14,000 more jobs than Wisconsin since only July of this year. Minnesota’s unemployment rate, at 4.5%, is actually lower than it was before the recession and is currently a full point lower than Wisconsin’s.
And it’s not only jobs; the numbers also show that Minnesota outpaces Wisconsin when it comes to wages and personal income growth. Just looking at manufacturing jobs, the most recent numbers show Minnesotans making $600 more per month, with wage growth over the past year more than doubling Wisconsin’s [Anderson, 2014.10.22].
While Walker has to distract voters with fears of ISIS, Dayton gets to use his investment to make Minnesota better:
While Walker spends time running for president and making ill-advised comparisons between fighting organized labor and battling the Islamic State group, Dayton is busy thinking about how to invest in the ordinary people who make up Minnesota’s economy.
Dayton began his second term in January and is already gunning to take advantage of his budget surplus. His new budget plan aims to boost spending on education from kindergarten through college, and he’s angling to invest in public transit, paid sick time for workers and child care tax credits for middle-class families, according to Mother Jones. History suggests the investments will pay off [Zeeshan Aleem, “2 Years After Raising Taxes on the Rich, Here’s the Hellscape Minnesota Has Become,” Policy.Mic, 2015.03.02].
Wisconsin had lower income taxes than Minnesota before 2011; Walker’s and Dayton’s divergent policies have increased the difference. But Wisconsin still relies heavily on property tax, just like South Dakota. And thanks to that property tax, most Wisconsinites are paying a greater share of their income to Madison than they would if they lived in Minnesota.
And you know, Dayton isn’t even beating up Minnesota’s rich that badly to make these good things happen. Joe Loveland of Minnesota’s Wry Wing Politics produces this remarkable graph of state and local tax burdens on each decile of Minnesota’s taxpayers in 2012 and 2017:
Minnesota’s top 10% are the only decile seeing an uptick in their total state and local tax burden (and remember, they are the group best positioned to take advantage of deducting state and local taxes from their federal income tax). But even their whisker-bigger burden will remain a couple whiskers lower than most other groups. And notice that Minnesota’s bottom 10% will still bear more than double the burden of all other Minnesotans, rich and middle.
The point here is that Dayton isn’t squeezing his fellow millionaires all that hard, probably not hard enough to make them flee Walker’s tax-cutting Wisconsin or no-income-tax South Dakota, but just enough to boost Minnesota’s budget and economy. Dayton’s Democratic policies leave the rich content, while benefiting everyone else.
Meanwhile in Wisconsin, Walker’s Republican policies do the opposite: the rich cheer paying less income tax, but the fiscal impacts drag all of Wisconsin down.
Dayton’s not running for President, but voters, you have to ask: would you like a Democrat to do for America what Dayton’s policies have done for Minnesota, or would you like a Republican like Walker to throw the same gum in the policy works that are dragging Wisconsin down?