Minnesota 2020 Journal: Five Years
Five years ago, we launched Minnesota 2020. Wow, what a ride.
Minnesota 2020 was fashioned from equal parts faith and frustration. We were—and are—frustrated with the pervasive, slippery slope of conservative public policy direction and its seductive, misleading conservative messaging. Together, these two elements literally say one thing and do another.
We have faith that Minnesota’s future held—and still holds—more potential for prosperity than at any point in our state’s past. Our glass is half-full rather than half-empty. Potential can, however, ebb away. That’s why we believe that Minnesota must change its conservative public policy path, embracing a progressive direction.
We didn’t expect everyone to agree with us and, unsurprisingly, not everyone does. Right out of the chute, conservative activists filed a Minnesota Campaign Finance Board complaint against us, accusing us of unregistered lobbying. That move was meant to intimidate us. It didn’t work.
First off, nonprofit organizations are permitted to lobby, which means using organizational funds and resources to persuade elected officials to support a particular course of action. Lobbying, however, may only be a small part of the nonprofit group’s activities.
Second, we don’t lobby. We conduct public policy research and broadly share our findings across Minnesota. We believe that calm consideration of our research can and should direct policymakers to make better decisions. But, that’s not the same as persuading a legislative committee chair to include language supporting a change in law. Other folks do that. Not us.
Needless to say, the first conservative attack on Minnesota 2020 went nowhere. That hasn’t stopped them from trying. A year later, we issued our first Minnesota Charter School financial practices review. It was based on charter schools’ own audits, performed by licensed CPAs of the schools own choosing. The CPAs flagged charter schools’ poor financial management practices in the audits. We simply compiled a list and reported it to Minnesota.
Charter school education shouldn’t be a conservatives vs progressives issue but, unfortunately, it mostly is. Conservative activists came down on us like a ton of bricks. When our data withstood scrutiny, they rolled out personal attacks. We were bad people, they claimed, bullying charter schools.
Conservative policy activists understand that Minnesota 2020 represents a threat to their entire argument. Central to conservative strategy is a misleading argument that working- and middle-class Minnesotans will benefit from conservative policy. Based on the data, that’s patently false.
Conservative tax policy seeks to relieve Minnesota’s highest income earners from paying a progressively fair share of Minnesota’s revenue generating obligation. In other words, the rich should pay less in taxes, proportionately, than everyone else. Simultaneously, conservative tax policy works to direct public investments’ benefits into fewer, wealthier hands.
The late US Senator Paul Wellstone said that we all do better when we all do better. Here’s how that works.
Individually, few of us can afford roads, bridges, parks, libraries, hospitals, airports, dams, locks, police forces, fire departments, bank regulators, schools or any of the thousands of public services creating strong Minnesota communities. Together, we can afford them. We pool our financial resources, levied principally through three forms of taxation—income, property and sales—and invest them in public infrastructure.
That infrastructure can be physical, like roads, or it can be intellectual and developmental, like schools and education. In fact, it’s not one or the other but both. This investment increases the workforce’s quality and facilitates commerce. The resulting economic activity makes a few folks really rich but it also raises the general level of prosperity.
Infrastructure also requires regular reinvestment and recapitalization. Reducing proportionate tax responsibility—a tax cut for Minnesota’s highest income earners—requires increasing the tax burden on other taxpayers or cutting budgets for services and investments. Or both. Achieving the former means, for nearly every Minnesotan, paying more but getting less.
This explains why property taxes are rising and yet library hours and snowplowing budgets are vanishing.
It doesn’t have to stay this way. Minnesota can and must change course. We’re not interested in going back to anything. We believe that Minnesota can move forward. Not to sound trite but Minnesota’s future lays in the future, not in the past. If we focus on what really matters—strong education, affordable healthcare, robust transportation and jobs—Minnesota prospers.
That’s what we believe. We’ve spent the past five years making the case for investing and prospering. Here’s to the next five years of doing just that but doing it better.