A Prosperity Agenda
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2020 Issue of Thinking Minnesota, now the second largest magazine in Minnesota. To receive a free trial issue send your name and address to email@example.com.
Every year, Center of the American Experiment gets involved in helping to defeat bad ideas proposed at the Minnesota Legislature. In addition, the Center has a positive agenda of legislation that we want to see enacted. That agenda takes into account, of course, the political landscape. But regardless of partisan alignment, there are some ideas so strong, and some policies so obviously beneficial, that they may be enacted despite partisan gridlock. The Center is working on securing House and Senate sponsors for the proposals below, which are some of the Center’s agenda items for the 2020 legislative session.
* Repeal the Estate Tax. Minnesota is one of a dwindling minority of states that still assess an estate or inheritance
tax. Two studies—one last year by Center economist John Phelan—have concluded that Minnesota probably loses
money on its estate tax. These studies find that the tiny amount of money the tax brings in (around 1/2 of 1 percent of revenue) is more than offset by taxes lost from taxpayers who are driven out of the state because of the estate tax. Our Thinking Minnesota Poll found that 73 percent of Minnesotans favor repealing the estate tax.
* Cut Personal Income Taxes. Modestly. Long term, Minnesota needs to reduce its personal income tax rates significantly in order to remain economically competitive. For now, though, we can build on last year’s small reduction in Minnesota’s second tax bracket with a modest reduction in the lowest income bracket, now taxed at 5.35 percent. That reduction will give every Minnesota taxpayer a small amount of relief while continuing to move the state in the right direction on taxes. Eighty-five percent of Minnesotans support this proposal.
* Gas Tax Transparency Act. Drivers shouldn’t need a calculator to figure out how much tax they’re paying at the pump, especially when Governor Walz is pushing for a 70 percent tax increase. To that end, Minnesota should require gas station receipts for gasoline sales to itemize state and federal taxes, as is commonly done on other types of sales receipts. Fifty-four percent of Minnesotans support this proposal.
* Mandate the Inclusion of Large Hydro-power in Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Mandate. The state’s 25 percent mandate, which applies to generation of electricity, currently includes wind and solar energy but excludes large- scale hydropower. Hydropower emits no carbon dioxide, and there is no rational argument against classifying large-scale hydro as renewable energy. The Thinking Minnesota Poll found that 81 percent of Minnesotans agree with this proposal.
* End the Ban on New Nuclear Power Plants. Building a nuclear power plant is now illegal in Minnesota, but this ban makes no sense, given the priority the state otherwise places on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Our paper “Doubling Down on Failure,” by Isaac Orr and Mitch Rolling, demonstrated that nuclear power is a far cheaper and more effective way to reduce CO2 emissions than wind and solar. The Thinking Minnesota Poll found that 58 percent of Minnesotans favor legalizing nuclear power plant construction.
* Bar New Rules on Automobile Emission Standards. Governor Walz’s proposal to bring California’s self-destructive demand for vast numbers of electric vehicles to Minnesota would be disastrous for the state’s drivers and electricity rate payers. (That is to say, all of us.) What’s more, there appears to be no legal basis to adopt such standards in Minnesota by rule. The Thinking Minnesota Poll found that at most, only 25 percent of Minnesotans favor these standards.
* Carry Out a Pilot School Choice Program. Recently, there has been much publicity about the fact that Minnesota has one of the worst racial education gaps in the country. School choice is the most practical way to begin to address this achievement gap. Minnesota should conduct a small-scale experiment, allowing students in one or two failing school districts to attend a public or private school of their choice, and after two years, compare test results with their peers at the original school. This modest proposal is supported by 71 percent of Minnesotans.
* Protect Teacher Safety in Public Schools. In recent years, an outrageous number of Minnesota teachers have been assaulted by students in their own classrooms, sometimes resulting in serious injury. This is a multifaceted problem, but at a bare minimum state law should provide for automatic expulsion as the penalty for assaulting a teacher. Minnesotans agree, as 69 percent support this proposal.
* Adopt a Standard on Academic Balance in Schools. Katherine Kersten’s shocking reporting on political indoctrination in Edina’s schools led to the introduction of an academic balance bill in 2018. The bill’s aim, to prevent one-sided political expression and bullying of Minnesota students, should be uncontroversial. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it through the divided legislature, so Center of the American Experiment is pushing for the bill to be reintroduced this year. The proposal is supported by 63 percent of Minnesotans.
* Legalize Direct Primary Care. In order to bring down health care costs and maximize patients’ control over their own medical care, Minnesota should enable a system in which families can contract directly with primary care physicians for basic medical services, in exchange for a fixed monthly charge. The family can then buy catastrophic coverage to cover unforeseen medical expenses. The combined cost will be significantly less than the same family would now have to pay in the individual market. Such a plan would require state authorization and would need a waiver under the Affordable Care Act, which the current administration would grant. In the Thinking Minnesota Poll, 58 percent of Minnesotans favored this plan.
* Ban the Use of CO2 Emissions to Block Agricultural Development. A recent Minnesota Court of Appeals case blocked a dairy farmer from expanding his dairy herd on the ground that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency had not sufficiently taken into account the effect of a larger number of cows on the Earth’s climate. That impact is, in fact, zero, but the court’s reasoning will lead to years of delay and thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees and other costs. This shaky rationale could be used to block virtually any new agricultural enterprise or expansion of any existing enterprise. Minnesota’s legislature should put an immediate end to such nonsense. Our poll finds that 63 percent of Minnesotans will thank them for it.
* End Government Shutdowns. The threat of suspending certain government services is a political bargaining chip that does not benefit the state’s citizens. The Center’s “End Government Shutdowns Act” provides for an automatic continuing budget resolution, with spending at the same level as the preceding budget, if the legislature and governor cannot agree on a budget for the next biennium. A majority of Minnesotans support this proposal.
* Audit the Department of Human Services. In recent years, a succession of scandals has highlighted multiple instances of fraud, waste and mismanagement in Minnesota’s Department of Human Services. DHS should be subjected to a thorough audit to identify wasteful and inappropriate spending and assure that taxpayers are getting what they pay for. An overwhelming 90 percent of Minnesotans want such an audit, with only 8 percent opposed.
John Hinderaker is President of Center of the American Experiment.