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Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: A Tale of Two States

by Dave Patterson  |  May 04, 2015

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: A Tale of Two States To determine just why Minnesota and Wisconsin, both deeply invested in manufacturing and agricultural economics, have fared so differently, one only has to look to who they elected governor in 2010.

For workers, economic fortunes follow elections of Dayton, Walker

For working people in Minnesota it is the best of times (at least in the last half decade). But in neighboring Wisconsin, it is the worst of times. To determine just why these Midwest states, both deeply invested in manufacturing and agricultural economics, have fared so differently, one only has to look to who they elected governor in 2010.

Facing a deep natural recession and a $6 billion budget deficit, Minnesotans voted in progressive Gov. Mark Dayton, who ran on a tax-the-rich platform that included investment in people and infrastructure.

Dayton pushed a sharp increase on taxes for the top 2 percent to pay for his plan. And soon he and legislators passed laws that expanded unionization, froze college tuition, increased the minimum wage, required equal pay for women, legalized same-sex marriage, eased voter restrictions, boosted primary education spending and established all-day kindergarten.

Wisconsinites went in a complete 180-degree direction. They elected Scott Walker, a firebrand conservative who scapegoated public service workers while extolling the virtues of “trickle-down” economics and cutting his way to reducing the state’s $3 billion budget hole.

Walker cut taxes on the most wealthy, saying it would spur job creation and innovation. He and a Republican-controlled Legislature dismantled collective bargaining for public employees with Act 10. They also opposed a minimum-wage increase and equal-pay legislation, refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and, finally, passed the scam right-to-work law.

Five years later, only one governor has proven successful.

In Minnesota, Dayton turned that $6 billion budget deficit into a more than $2 billion surplus in just one term. Minnesota added 172,000 jobs and its 3.6 percent unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country.

Under Walker’s policies, Wisconsin still faces a $2 billion shortfall, has fallen to 44th in private-sector job creation and faces a 5.2 percent unemployment rate.

Minnesota has consistently been in the top tier of states for GDP growth since Dayton was elected and median incomes are $8,000 higher than the national average. In Wisconsin, median household income is thousands less than in Minnesota.

In 2015, Minnesota is considered one of the most business-friendly states in the country, with Forbes ranking it the ninth-best state for business, seventh in economic climate and second in quality of life. Thanks to Walker’s anti-worker policies, the cost of doing business in Wisconsin is now higher than the national average.

“In Minnesota, we’re doing better than our neighbors in the Badger state because our governor understands that good government works for all people, not just the rich,” said Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Minnesota Council 5. “Under Governor Dayton, we know that everyone will get a fair shot, give their fair share, and play by the same rules. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker has only served the rich, so he hasn’t created an economy that works for working families.” 

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