‘Ain’t so common’

The importance of common sense to a properly functioning society.

“Common sense ain’t so common.” Mark Twain’s comment is as relevant today as when he first wrote it 150 years ago. Maybe more so. He would have been dumbstruck (as I am) at how today’s American leaders have abandoned common sense to help them “manage” government, business, and academia. This is especially true in Minnesota.

Let’s begin with our state’s recently passed operating budget. Prior to last year’s legislative session, Minnesota taxpayers provided our elected leaders with an $18 billion surplus — a 32 percent cushion over anticipated operating expenses. Such an unprecedented surplus should have provided legislators an easy path to fashion a responsible budget, right? Not with the occupants of the political clown car that currently oversee our state. The DFL governor, the DFL Senate, and the DFL House abandoned any sense of common sense as they squandered the entire surplus to pay for an agenda of frivolous “feel-good” proposals that mostly catered to left-wing political interest groups. Along the way, they boosted taxes by $9 billion and increased the operating budget for future years by over 33 percent! It surprised no one that they excluded commonsense legislators who were trying to warn them that this spending was unsustainable.

Gov. Tim Walz and his minions assured Minnesotans not to worry about future deficits, even as the state’s non-partisan bean counters were projecting a structural deficit in the next biennium of $2.3 billion (or substantially more, if the economy slows down or slips into a recession). Walz responded with a cavalier smirk, saying, “We can always increase taxes if we have to.” It doesn’t take an economist to realize that a 33 percent budget increase in state spending is out of control. Commonsense Minnesotans all expect the proverbial manure to hit the fan.

Now, as the ghost town formerly known as downtown Minneapolis continues its desultory slide into economic and cultural irrelevance, a group of political, business, and community do-gooders convened to brainstorm how to make downtown Minneapolis a more desirable destination for visitors, employees, and residents. Their comically ludicrous list of proposals included turning the Nicollet Mall into a pedestrian-only walkway, expanding the city’s farmers market, hosting more outdoor events and festivals, and allowing people to openly consume alcoholic beverages on the streets.

Actual visitors, employees, and residents — the commonsense folks — would have told them to forget the frivolity and focus solely on public safety. People stay away from downtown Minneapolis because they don’t feel safe. Our own Thinking Minnesota Poll discovered in May 2023 that an overwhelming 77 percent of Minnesotans were concerned about crime in our urban core.

Nothing will improve the attractiveness of Minneapolis until our feckless public officials and our spineless business leaders call for more police and prosecution of criminals. People want to feel safe when visiting downtown. Pretty basic stuff.

Common sense is also embarrassingly absent from any discussions of our light rail transit system. Members of the Met Council, which oversees light rail, would benefit from Yogi Berra’s advice, who once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Simply based on my casual observation, both the Blue and Green Lines are largely empty of any commuters, except for the homeless and drug dealers. Why? Might it be due to safety concerns? Maybe we simply misjudged the need for having such a system. Light rail has devolved into a gigantic, excessively expensive boondoggle. It would be cheaper to give riders a monthly Uber voucher.

Despite this, the heedless members of the Met Council are plowing ahead with the Southwest Light Rail corridor, saddling taxpayers with a bill of $3 billion from the initial estimate of approximately $1 billion. They also want to construct the even costlier Bottineau line. Common sense would dictate that when construction expenses are out of control and ridership on the two current lines is at an all-time low, maybe, just maybe, we should put everything on pause before we spend more taxpayer money and prevent this transportation disaster from getting even bigger.

Minnesota’s K-12 education policies are even more nonsensical. Commonsense parents aren’t surprised that only 34.8 percent of Minneapolis public school students can perform at grade-level in math and 41.2 percent proficiency in reading. Students are experiencing historically low test scores because school leaders prioritize social activism over academic performance. Pumping more money into the existing system and getting the same dismal results year after year will only fail another generation of young people. It is not the answer and should not be allowed to happen.

Parents are looking for better educational alternatives. They are looking for more emphasis on basic education: reading, writing, and arithmetic. They aren’t impressed by pouring money into Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs, growing the number of non-teaching bureaucrats who are overwhelming school budgets, and turning schools into cultural flashpoints such as putting feminine hygiene products in boys’ bathrooms.

The commonsense response would be to embrace basic knowledge and learning and make school choice initiatives widely available. An effective solution might be for students from low-income families and underserved children of color or those with special needs to be given a chance to attend a school of their choice — whether public or private.

How do we get back on track? It requires ordinary people to push back on these nonsensical leaders and call them out as total frauds. Commonsense advocates should not lose heart when we’re flooded with daily nonsense from our leaders. We must band together and speak out. We must start electing people who are not influenced by the latest fads but rather can judge for themselves what makes sense and what doesn’t.

We at American Experiment strive every day to find fact-based public policy solutions rooted in common sense. We don’t bend in the breeze of “feel-good” new-age trends and bumper sticker slogans. We have assembled a library of well-researched policy recommendations grounded in reality and time-tested, commonsense truths. American Experiment isn’t just the state’s smartest, most conservative and impactful think tank, we’re Minnesota’s commonsense think tank. And we will continue to fight for commonsense solutions to our most vexing social and economic problems in the coming years.