Leadership MIA

It’s up to voters to lead the way.

Minnesota’s 2022 legislative session was disappointing to many. Put bluntly, little was accomplished. How to deal with the state’s projected $9.3 billion surplus was the main issue before the legislature, and the question was left unresolved. As you would expect, liberals wanted to add to Minnesota’s already out-of-control spending, while conservatives wanted to use the surplus prudently, through permanent tax cuts, a one-time rebate, or minimizing state debt.

American Experiment led the effort to bring about permanent tax cuts with our “Give It Back” campaign. We set up a website, GiveItBackMn.com, which Minnesotans used to send more than 33,000 emails to Gov. Tim Walz and their own representatives and senators, requesting that the surplus be returned to the taxpayers in the form of permanent tax cuts. Many Minnesotans also used the site to record brief video messages that we sent on to the governor.

The Center promoted our Give It Back campaign with emails, radio ads, social media and billboards. In doing so, we spoke for the largest number of Minnesotans. As this month’s Thinking Minnesota Poll found, 35 percent of Minnesotans want the surplus used for permanent tax cuts, while 15 percent prefer a one-time rebate and 12 percent want to use the cash to pay for capital projects rather than borrowing. Compared with those 62 percent who prefer a prudent course, only 34 percent want to devote the surplus to more education and welfare spending.

But many legislators did not get the message and in the end, the House and Senate negotiated a compromise in principle, under which $4 billion would be added to state spending and $4 billion would go to tax cuts. But when the House reduced its proposal to writing, it reneged on the agreement. The House’s plan provided for only $2.6 billion in tax cuts over three years, while actually raising taxes elsewhere. The Senate declined to go along with this double-cross, and the session ended without a budget agreement. As usual, there was no leadership from the governor’s office.

So the issue now rests with the voters. Our polling over the past several years has shown that by a two to one margin, Minnesotans want lower income tax rates in all brackets and restraint in state spending. From our legislature, they have gotten the opposite. The time has come for Minnesota voters to rise up and make their preferences known. In November, the issue will be clearly presented: Do most Minnesotans want a future of uncompetitive tax rates and ever-higher and more wasteful spending? Or do they want to bring Minnesota into the 21st century, with normal tax rates and an effort to rein in government waste and fraud?

Based on both the Thinking Minnesota Poll and common sense, I’m betting on the latter.

These events prompt the question, where does leadership come from in public affairs? Contrary, perhaps, to popular assumption, leadership rarely comes from politicians. The truth is that most politicians don’t lead, they follow. The path of least resistance, and the easiest road to re-election, are the lodestars for too many.

What direction do Minnesota’s voters want to go? That is the question that will be answered in November and in the 2023 legislative session.

And the timing could hardly be more critical. Minnesota needs change, and we need it now. Over the coming months, American Experiment will lead the effort to modernize Minnesota’s tax system and rein in excessive spending. The issue couldn’t be more critical to our state’s future.