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Closing Minnesota 2020: A Farewell from John Van Hecke

October 06, 2014 By John Van Hecke, Senior Fellow & Founding Executive Director

Minnesota 2020 moved Minnesota’s public policy debate forward for seven and a half years, from 2007-2014. Hundreds of volunteer writers, researchers and activists helped millions of Minnesotans focus on what really matters: education, healthcare, transportation and economic development. As a result, 2014 Minnesota looks different and better than 2007 Minnesota.

Conservative “no new taxes” policies were all the rage. Implementing those policies carried consequences. By 2007, Minnesota’s roads and bridge infrastructure were rapidly crumbling and, in the tragic case of the I-35W bridge, literally falling apart. Minnesota’s school funding was declining annually. Minnesota’s economy, like the national economy, was cooling and about to tank with the 2008 recession. Healthcare costs were spiraling beyond working families’ means. Policy leaders were more concerned with preserving wealth’s privilege than creating opportunity for working families.

Minnesota 2020 changed that. Beginning with Minnesota 2020’s first report, “Chasing Smokestacks, Stranding Small Business: Rural Minnesota’s Crisis,” Minnesota 2020 carefully examined the controversial conservative “JOB-Z” business subsidy policy. Following publication, which included recommended retasking JOB-Z funding into more cost-effective, stronger regional business development initiatives, Executive and Legislative support for JOB-Z quietly disappeared.

That first report established an analytical template. Minnesota 2020 researchers examined Minnesota’s property tax system; surveyed Minnesota’s county engineers, finding widespread concern with road quality; and made the financial and economic development policy case for increasing Minnesota’s minimum wage.

Seven and a half years later, the public policy landscape looks better. Minnesotans have a substantially more fair state income tax structure. Minnesota’s minimum wage is climbing. Minnesota’s school funding decline has been reversed with more state resources flowing to public K-12 and higher education schools. Minnesota is back to work; unemployment levels are back to pre-recession numbers.

Many people made these changes happen but Minnesota 2020 gathered economic data, crunched the numbers and made the public policy case for policy change. We traveled Minnesota, sharing our findings and explaining state policy’s impact at the local level. We published over 30 reports and thousands of articles, digging into the who, what, where, how and why of public policy consequences.

Remarkably, Minnesota 2020 vigorously engaged Minnesota’s public policy debate without rancor, ad hominem attacks or personal slander. It didn’t call people names, proving that Minnesotans appreciate objective, data-driven policy analysis. The same could not be said of Minnesota 2020’s critics.

While Minnesota 2020 closed on September 30, 2014, Minnesota 2020’s body of research remains as a beacon of hope and achievement, of insight and conviction facilitated by hard work. Every published word is available here. Use it to learn about Minnesota’s policy past. Use it to guide future research. Building a stronger, better Minnesota never stops. 

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