Policy momentum

Blueprint helps frame the State’s Major Policy debate

Center of the American Experiment spent much of 2014 developing and then rolling out the Minnesota Policy Blueprint, a wide-ranging set of policy recommendations across ten different issue areas.

In 2015 we’ve been working hard to advance these recommendations by publishing more in-depth research, reaching out to lawmakers, building coalitions and educating the community through speeches and op-eds.

The Blueprint was driven by a belief that Minnesota needs a strong alternative policy vision in order to rise above the tired old liberal policies that continue to lead the conversation.

Consider the policy solutions coming from the left these days. To fill transportation funding gaps they propose increasing gas taxes. To narrow education achievement gaps they propose expanding K-12 public schools to preschool. To strengthen the job market they propose mandating more workplace rules. And to control rising health care costs they propose increasing government health care subsidies.

These solutions—higher taxes, bigger public programs, and more regulation— could not be more predictable. Just as predictable is their inevitable failure to deliver a better, more prosperous future for Minnesota.

Nonetheless, this is exactly where the state will go if people are not given any practical policy alternatives for solving the state’s very real problems.

The Blueprint delivers these alternative policies with more than 100 recommendations.

These recommendations played a major role in shaping the proposals and agendas heard during the 2015 Minnesota legislative session. Here are some highlights:

  • On transportation, lawmakers proposed to increase transportation funding for roads and bridges without raising taxes by using revenue from the existing sales tax.
  • Numerous bills were proposed to make the unelected Met Council accountable to the people.
  • The need to make energy more affordable by paring down green energy mandates finally got a serious hearing.
  • Bills to eliminate or reduce the estate tax and the statewide general tax on business and seasonal property progressed in both the House and the Senate.
  • Various proposals created opportunities to use tax credits to directly fund private school tuition or private school scholarship programs.
  • A law passed to require the state’s pension system to make more reasonable assumptions on the rate of return for investments, among other assumptions.
  • Finally, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt both authored bills to create a Legislative Budget Office much like the Congressional Budget Office to improve the budget process.

American Experiment’s small staff could never shepherd over 100 recommendations through the legislative process. State legislators and other policy advocates have taken the lead to advance a far greater number of Blueprint recommendations than the Center could advance alone.

At the close of the session, over 200 bills had been proposed in the House and the Senate that would fully or at least partially advance a Blueprint recommendation. Of these bills, nearly 70 gained passage in at least one legislative body and 15 were enacted into law.

The success of the Blueprint, at least in 2015, is not about the laws passed. They represent only small, incremental changes. Rather, the Blueprint’s huge success is revealed in how it contributed so broadly and deeply to the policy debates taking place in the legislature and around the state. As outlined above, key Blueprint recommendations helped frame debates over transportation, energy, health care, pensions, regional planning, education and even the budget process. This was no small feat.

Looking forward to the 2016 legislative session, taxes and transportation will likely take center stage. Lawmakers agreed to not spend $865 million of the $1.9 billion surplus during the 2015 session. Since then revenues continue to come in higher than the February economic forecast projected, which means well over a $1 billion surplus could be available as legislators reconvene in 2016. Negotiations over what to do with a surplus will likely start with tax cuts and transportation spending considering those were the two major issues the House and the Senate failed to resolve in 2015.

Naturally, the Dayton administration and the Senate will come with more ideas for spending the surplus and election year politics will play a big part in the end result.

Within this environment, the Center’s attention will be particularly focused on the estate tax. As outlined in the cover story, the estate tax has an outsized influence on decisions made by Minnesota’s wealthiest taxpayers to move to lower tax states. A repeal or reduction of the tax also has a relatively small price tag and some DFL support in the Senate, all of which gives it a good chance of being included in a final tax package.

Moving forward, the Center will also continue to prioritize the following policies: advancing school choice; opening opportunities for small employers to fund individual health insurance pre-tax; guarding against new green energy mandates; increasing funding for roads without raising taxes; blocking state funding for new light rail projects; and reforming the Met Council to give local governments and the legislature more control over regional planning and budgets.

Center of the American Experiment can only do this work through the great generosity of our supporters. Please consider making a donation today to advance the Blueprint and bolster our efforts to build a culture of prosperity for Minnesota and the nation.