Wisconsin and Minnesota have long made fascinating bookends. As longtime readers may recall, the two neighboring states have similar sizes, similar populations, similar demographics, and even similar climates. But they don’t necessarily have similar politics, at least not lately.
In the 2010 elections, the Badger State elected Scott Walker (R) governor and gave control of the legislature to Republicans, while the Gopher State made Mark Dayton (D) governor and, in 2012, elected a Democratic legislature*. The former got to work targeting collective bargaining and approving tax cuts, while the latter raised taxes on the wealthy and boosted in-state investments.
Nearly five years later, one of these two states is doing quite well. Policy.mic had an interesting report this week.
Since 2011, Minnesota has been doing quite well for itself. The state has created more than 170,000 jobs, according to the Huffington Post. Its unemployment rate stands at 3.6% – the fifth-lowest in the country, and far below the nationwide rate of 5.7% – and the state government boasts a budget surplus of $1 billion. Forbes considers Minnesota one of the top 10 in the country for business.
As Patrick Caldwell recently explained very well, Minnesota’s gains come on the heels of tax increases on Minnesota’s top 2% and higher corporate taxes, both of which state Republicans said would crush Minnesota’s economy. As for their neighbors to the east:
By a number of measures, Wisconsin hasn’t fared as well as Minnesota. As the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal reports, Wisconsin’s job growth has been among the worst in the region, and income growth is one of the worst in the country. It has a higher unemployment rate than Minnesota. And the budget is in bad shape.
Back in January, the editorial board of LaCrosse Tribune wrote, “The governors of Wisconsin and Minnesota each presented their versions of new year’s resolutions in various media interviews last week….Which approach is better? As we enter the new year, Minnesota is clearly winning by a long shot.”
Political scientist Lawrence Jacobs published a related comparison a while back, which drew a similar conclusion: “The lesson from the upper Midwest is that rigid anti-tax dogma fails to deliver a convincing optimistic vision that widens economic opportunity and security. The excesses of liberalism may lurk, but Minnesota is building a modern progressivism that plows a hopeful path.”
Comparisons between states can be inherently tricky, but that’s what makes the Minnesota/Wisconsin test so interesting – two similar, neighboring states, trying very different approaches at the exact same time, facing identical national conditions.
I’d imagine most Republicans might find the results hard to explain.