The Minnesota Myth

Minnesota has long been a poster child for the policies of high taxes, heavy government spending, and extensive regulation of the economy. As far back as 1973, Time magazine branded Minnesota ‘The state that works’. More recently, former President Barack Obama liked to hold our state up as a supposedly successful example of his big government policies.

Minnesota is currently attracting a lot of attention in Illinois. There, despite the looming bankruptcy stemming from out of control spending and tax policies which have driven economic activity out of the state, there are still some arguing that the solution is even more of this and Minnesota, improbably, is their example.

Not everyone is buying it, however. In the State Journal-Register last week, Mark Batinick, a representative in the Illinois House for the state’s 97th district, wrote the following.

Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota! It’s all Illinois Democrats seem to crow about these days. The story goes like this: If Illinois just had progressive policies like Minnesota all would be well and our problems would be solved. But like most things, the devil is in the details, so it’s important to examine those “progressive” policies and see how they stack up to Illinois.

Property taxes in Minnesota are near 1 percent and below the national average. Meanwhile, families and businesses in Illinois are faced with some of the highest property tax rates in the country, at 2.23 percent. Do Illinois Democrats have a plan for that?

Workers’ Compensation rates are about the national average in Minnesota — which is much lower than Illinois. In addition, attorney fees on Workers’ Compensation claims are capped at $26,000 in Minnesota. Do Illinois Democrats plan to make the changes necessary in our state to emulate Minnesota’s law?

Despite Minnesota having a higher median income, their prevailing wage rates are much less than Illinois’ — by about one-third. And unlike Illinois, Minnesota has a minimum job size for prevailing wage work. Are Illinois Democrats willing to support these changes in the face of opposition by organized labor?

While Minnesota has a higher minimum wage, $9.65 an hour, for workers at large companies than Illinois, its minimum wage is actually lower, $7.87 an hour, for smaller employers. It also has a lower “teen” and training minimum wage. These policies fly in the face of the attempts by some Illinois Democrats to force a $15 minimum wage on all businesses, regardless of size, for all employees, regardless of age or experience.

Minnesota pays its K-12 teachers less and spends significantly less on education per student. They also spend less than the national average on higher education per student. The budget standoff notwithstanding, spending per pupil in Illinois is well above the national average for both K-12 and higher education. Again, are these the “progressive” policies that Illinois Democrats would support here?

Minnesota has also greatly benefited from the North Dakota Bakken oil shale boom — which has nothing to do with “progressive” or any other policies in Minnesota. Many Minnesota construction workers have traveled to North Dakota for temporary, high-paying work, and bring those dollars back home. Imagine what Illinois’ economy would look like if there was a similar boom in Indiana, and our construction workers traveled over the state line for these jobs, only to bring that money back to Illinois. It certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with any of the policies we had in place at the time.

The point is, when politicking, it’s easy to simply cherry-pick stats to fit your point of view. But governing requires understanding the entire picture. So, if Illinois Democrats and others are serious about creating jobs and growing our economy for generations to come, it’s time to stop politicking and have an honest discussion about what we need to do to move our state forward.

Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, is the state representative in the Illinois House from the 97th district.