Take the money and run

Minnesotans voted for a narrow Democrat majority in the state. Will those leaders now double down on even more progressive policies? Not on our watch.

The cover story in the fall issue of Thinking Minnesota was “Minnesota Malaise.” It was based on the Thinking Minnesota Poll, which found deep dissatisfaction among Minnesotans across a broad range of issues, and a shocking 56 percent of Minnesotans expect the next generation to be worse off than we are.

The familiar right track/wrong track questions consistently found that a large majority of Americans think our country is moving in the wrong direction. Not surprisingly, then, nearly all observers expected the 2022 election to bring about change, and maybe a major upheaval.

But it didn’t happen. To an extraordinary degree, 2022 was a status quo election. In Minnesota, the statewide candidates all won reelection, and only a handful of legislative seats changed hands.

Political scientists will debate the question of why a visibly discontented electorate nevertheless voted to stay with the status quo. But one thing we know for sure: There has never been a more important time to stand firm on behalf of policies that benefit all Americans, and all Minnesotans.

In Minnesota, the legislative session is underway. Some legislative leaders apparently think that November’s election was a mandate for a sharp turn to the left. It appears there will be a strong push to legalize recreational marijuana; to legalize sports gambling; and to liberalize the state’s abortion laws — although it is hard to see how they could be more liberal.

Meanwhile, special interests are waiting to carve up the projected budget surplus of more than $17 billion. There is no shortage of ways to spend it, with still more billions on K-12 education at the top of the list. Never mind that Minnesota’s spending on the public schools has gone up and up for decades, while the results achieved by those schools has declined. One thing we have conclusively proved is that more dollars do not produce better-educated students.

Rather than more spending, the legislature should focus on something that will actually produce better results: real school choice.

American Experiment will be working hard throughout the session to get meaningful school choice enacted. If school choice doesn’t become law, we will hold accountable those who voted against it, or who refused to allow it to come up for a vote at all.

Liberals want to use the surplus as an opportunity to dramatically expand state spending. But let’s look at the numbers. Around $6 billion is structural, i.e., Minnesota’s tax rates are too high. That over-taxation should be returned to the taxpayers in the form of permanent tax cuts.

The remaining $11 billion or more of the surplus is a one-time event. A portion of the federal government’s money-printing spree, which gave rise to the inflation we are now experiencing, has made its way into the coffers of state government. There will be no similar windfall next year or the year after. It is therefore critical that this money not be spent. Instead, it should be used for permanent tax cuts, or rebated to those who paid it. If, instead, this one-time windfall is spent in 2023, it will become part of the permanent budget. In the next budget year, it will come around again, likely with a proposed 10 percent increase. But there will be no federal windfall to pay for it.

To nearly everyone’s surprise, Minnesotans voted to keep the status quo in 2022. What they did not vote for was a hard lurch to the left on both social and economic issues. Reinforcing that lesson will be part of American Experiment’s mission in the coming year.