July 28, 2004
What's the Matter with Minnesota?
By Doug McGill
The McGill Report
MN -- Normally in this space I compare Minnesota and its government's
policies to those of foreign countries – like our
gun control laws compared to Japan's.
But today I simply must ask, is Minnesota starting to resemble Kansas?
The question came to mind while reading "What's the Matter With
Kansas?" by Thomas Franks. The book, number five on this week's
New York Times bestseller list, tells the story of a state that once
was bedrock blue-collar, agrarian, pro-union, suffragist, populist, and
progressive. A state once much like Minnesota was.
Today, Kansas has turned deeply conservative. Facing the state's
deepest fiscal crisis in recent history, its Republican-dominated
cuts tax after tax while also passing conservative legislation such
as a law to ban references to evolution in state-funded science
Throughout the state, economic crises incongruously vie with conservative
cultural issues in the headlines. A town goes broke, and water
fluoridation is reviled as a big government scheme; a company outsources
its workforce, as a town adopts a resolution actually requiring its citizens
to own firearms.
"This is Not
Its disastrous economy would seem to make Kansas ripe for a progressive
revival – yet the opposite has happened. As the economy worsens,
more conservatives are voted in.
It's "a panorama of madness and delusion worthy of Hieronymous Bosch," Franks
writes, "of working-class guys cheering as they deliver up a landslide
for a candidate whose policies will end their way of life, will transform
their region into a 'rust belt,' will strike people like them blows from
which they will never recover."
We're not to Heironymous Bosch-level here in Minnesota yet,
but to Rene Magritte-level, definitely yes. I am thinking
of a curved smoking pipe with a five-word message written
underneath it: "This is not a pipe."
In Minnesota's case, the fundamental disconnect -- found
in any number of Pawlenty administration programs -- can
is not corporate welfare," when in fact it obviously is.
When the Governor starts a new economic development initiative,
he usually includes this "it's not" caveat. For example, when launching
his centerpiece economic program for rural Minnesota, the Job Opportunity
Building Zones plan, he took care to emphasize that "these have
been called 'tax-free zones' in the past, but they're not about taxes,
they are about jobs."
In a sense, of course, he's right. The zones are definitely
not about taxes –on big corporations, that is. The program extends to corporations
that start in a JOBZ zone a 100% tax holiday on corporate income tax
or state property tax on improvements for a full 12 years – 12
years! That's much longer than many states offer as incentives to attract
Plenty of economists, including Art Rolnick, the
research director of the Minneapolis Reserve Bank,
say the evidence
subsidies don't benefit anyone except the corporations.
They don't create many jobs, and especially not higher-paying
Rolnick wrote in an Annual Report of the Minneapolis
Fed that such subsidies create a "trade war between states" that "undermines the
national economic union by misallocating resources and causing states
to provide too few public goods."
Pawlenty follows a "what's good for big business is good for Minnesota" philosophy
in agriculture, too. His recently-released task force report on the state's
struggling livestock industry, for example, says the best way to solve
the state's livestock problems is to weaken rural counties and townships – those
swaggering political behemoths!
In recent years, many rural jurisdictions have
blocked big agriculture companies from opening
their locales. The big ag lobbyists are fed
up, and the Governor now is,
Focus on Customers
Meanwhile, the Governor
increasingly apes the Kansas-style strategy of propounding culturally
rhetoric – e.g., on gun ownership,
the death penalty, a federal marriage amendment,
and patriotism in Iraq and Kosovo – while
pushing economic policies that strongly
favor big business.
Perhaps our governor learned
this trick from George W. Bush, who promises "high
payin' jobs" jobs to "workin' folks," while in fact presiding
over the loss of 2 to 3 million of those jobs over the past 3 years.
Yet he still somehow persuades millions of working men and women to vote
Minnesota's Governor is so enamored of
business that he even talks like a
CEO. He travels
state preaching "productivity," "efficiency," and "competitiveness," rather
than urging citizens to aspire to apparently old-fashioned ideals like "equality," "justice," "community," and "democracy."
On his official state
web site, the Governor declares that his two top
are "Commitment to Mission" and "Focus
Customers"?! Is the governor leading Minnesota, or running a Wal-Mart?
Today the question
of Minnesota's vital linkages to the world bows before the question,
are we becoming
Copyright @ 2004 The McGill