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Scott Walker’s Wisconsin vs. Dayton’s Minnesota: Which is doing better?

In a Sunday Times op-ed, Larry Jacobs looks in on which state is doing (much) better, and it’s Minnesota.

Three years ago, Minnesota elected a DFL governor (Mark Dayton) whose slogan was “tax the rich,” and in 2012 it gave his DFL party control of the Legislature. Three years ago, Wisconsin elected a Republican governor (Scott Walker) with a Republican Legislature pledged to implement the anti-tax, anti-union, least-government approach that 21st century conservatism says is the best way to produce jobs and economic growth and the greatest good for the great number.

In a must-read op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times, University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs stepped back to see which approach was getting better results so far.

It isn’t even close. Minnesota is growing and thriving far more than Wisconsin:

Three years into Mr. Walker’s term, Wisconsin lags behind Minnesota in job creation and economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Walker promised to produce 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term, but a year before the next election that number is less than 90,000. Wisconsin ranks 34th for job growth….

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Along with California, Minnesota is the fifth fastest growing state economy, with private-sector job growth exceeding pre-recession levels. Forbes rates Minnesota as the eighth best state for business….

The lion’s share of Minnesota’s new tax revenue was sunk into human capital. While the state’s Constitution required that half of the new revenue balance the budget in 2013, Mr. Dayton invested 71 percent of the remaining funds in K-12 schools and higher education as well as a pair of firsts: all-day kindergarten and wider access to early childhood education. Minnesota was one of the few states that raised education spending under the cloud of the Great Recession. 

By contrast, Mr. Walker’s strategy limited Wisconsin’s ability to invest in infrastructure that would have catalyzed private-sector expansion, and he cut state funding of K-12 schools by more than 15 percent. Per student, this was the seventh sharpest decline in the country.

Health care presents another difference.  When Mr. Walker refused to establish a state health insurance exchange or to expand Medicaid…

Mr. Dayton is on course to improve Minnesota’s already low uninsured rate. He expanded Medicaid to cover an additional 35,000 people and accepted Washington’s offer to pick up the cost — as half the states, including a growing number with Republican governors, have. Mr. Dayton also created a state insurance exchange, which enrolled more than 90 percent of its first month’s target.