If I were Dorothy, I wouldn’t take Toto back to Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback has doggedly (no pun intended!) pursued right-wing economic nostrums with devastating results.
Despite Brownback’s insistence that his massive tax cuts will translate into a booming state economy any day now, budget shortfalls have threatened to force layoffs of prison guards and massive cuts to public schools, health care providers and nursing homes, among others. A report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics pointed out that Kansas was one of only five states across the country that actually lost jobs in the last six months. As a result of all this, the Kansas legislature has reluctantly raised taxes (albeit not on those rich “job creators”– mostly just the regressive ones).
Then there’s Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana, where state lawmakers are preparing to dump Louisiana’s 1.6 billion dollar fiscal crisis on the next governor and legislature. Among other disasters, Jindal has presided over the biggest legislative downsizing ever faced by higher education in the U.S. The president of the Louisiana State University system has announced that Louisiana State (LSU) will consider declaring financial exigency—the equivalent of bankruptcy for academic institutions–and that as many as a dozen campuses throughout Louisiana could ultimately have to do the same.
Moving on to Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Budget Project reports that the state’s cuts to education since the start of the recession– the 7th largest in the country– deepened the recession, slowed the recovery, and are likely to make Wisconsin less prosperous in the future. Walker and legislative Republicans voted to cut 250 million dollars from the University of Wisconsin’s budget (in a gratuitous addition, they also voted to eliminate the state’s tenure laws, virtually guaranteeing an exodus of scholars from what was once one of the most prestigious public universities in the country.) Other shortfalls have halted highway construction and reduced health care access for the needy, and job creation has remained anemic.
Then there’s Minnesota. When Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton took office in 2011, the state had a $6 billion plus deficit and an unemployment rate of 7%. Minnesota’s unemployment rate is now below 4% and the state boasts a budget surplus of over $1.2 billion dollars. On taking office, Dayton raised taxes on the wealthy; more recently, he signed a bill raising the state’s minimum wage–policies that are anathema to the right wingers in Kansas, Louisiana and Wisconsin.
Gov. Dayton stayed true to his campaign promise to ask everyone to in Minnesota to pay their fair share in taxes–including rich corporations and CEOs. It doesn’t appear to have deterred businesses operations there; a recent analysis shows Minnesota is among the top five fastest growing state economies and private-sector job creation exceeds pre-recession levels.
After committing half of the resulting revenue to balancing the budget (as required by the state constitution) Dayton and allies invested nearly three-quarters of the remaining funds in public education, with a focus on all-day kindergarten and expanding access to early childhood education.
Minnesota has also broadened access to health care, expanding Medicaid, and–according to the New York Times– keeping premiums in its insurance exchange among the lowest in the country (and well below premiums in Wisconsin).
The comparisons to Wisconsin are particularly telling because the two states share similar climates, populations with German and Northern European roots, farming communities, and (at least before Walker) populist progressive political cultures.
Policy choices matter.
Trusting in what George H.W. Bush called “voodoo economics” is a lot like trusting your operation to a surgeon whose last hundred patients died during the procedure he’s recommending.