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Minnessippi? Calisota? How Minnesota stacks up against the states our guv candidates fear the most

MinnPost illustrations by Corey Anderson

When predicting the future of Minnesota, GOP governor candidate Jeff Johnson often evokes a single word to describe what could happen if his opponent, DFLer Tim Walz, is elected: California.

In one TV ad comparing his vision for the state to Walz’s, Johnson says: “One candidate sees a Minnesota where we all lose our health insurance, forced on to one government plan. Where we become a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants and where we pay even higher taxes. He wants us to be California.”

Johnson has even used the theme in a parody of Walz’s “One Minnesota” campaign theme and logo:

one california parody ad by johnson campaign

But Walz has his own geographic shorthand when forecasting Minnesota’s future if Johnson is elected: Mississippi.

At a forum with Johnson in Wayzata after each won the primary, Walz responded to Johnson’s charge that taxes would rise in a Walz Administration: “We are not a fearful people. We look to the future. We don’t fear the future, we create the future. This is a state that ranks at the top of so many measures. This is a state with a quality of life. And yes, you get what you pay for. I’m not interested in being Mississippi. I’m interested in being Minnesota.”

Both states are used to being stereotyped, of course. U.S. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t be as tempting a target for GOP advertising if she was from, say North Dakota. And there is even a Wikipedia entry for the phrase “Thank God for Mississippi,” defined as “a common adage in the United States, particularly in the South, that is generally used when discussing rankings of U.S. States.” But are the Golden State and the Magnolia State really such bad places? And is Minnesota really so much better?

MinnPost decided to take a look at how the three states stack up across a range of measures of the good life.


Since using states as bogeymen is very much a political trope, let’s first take a look at where California, Minnesota and Mississippi fall on the political spectrum: from raging liberal to raging conservative.

This is one area where the states represent three distinct pictures. In California, the governor’s office and both bodies of the state assembly are controlled by Democrats. In Minnesota, it’s mixed — Republicans control the legislature and Democrat Mark Dayton is the governor (though that’s changing in January and we don’t know who’ll replace him). In Mississippi, it’s a Republican trifecta, with both legislative bodies and the governorship held by the GOP.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

Death and taxes

Time and again, the issue Republicans most associate with California is taxes.  There are lots of different ways to look at that issue, but if you look strictly at per-capita state tax collections (including property, sales and gross receipts, license, income and other state taxes), Minnesota (#3) actually comes out in front of California (#8), according to the Census Bureau, while Mississippi is well below both states (#33).

Source: U.S. Census
Looking at a more specific tax issue in the governor’s race, Johnson points out Walz has supported raising the gas tax in Minnesota, which the Democrat wants to do to pay for infrastructure. When it comes to that specific tax, Minnesota’s in the middle of the three states.

Sources: Mississippi Business Journal; Minnesota Department of Revenue; Mercury News
As for life’s other certainty, the contrasts are pretty stark. A person born in Mississippi has the lowest life expectancy in the U.S., while Minnesotans have the second highest life expectancy (after Hawaii) and Californians have the third, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation


Education has emerged as a big issue in the governor’s race, which makes sense since it’s the second-largest part of Minnesota’s state budget. Here, as with life expectancy, things don’t look so great for Mississippi. Mississippi’s fourth grade reading scores, for example, were far below that of California and Minnesota’s. Math scores are low too.

Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress
When it comes to adults with higher education, Mississippi, where just 21 percent of adults over age 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, ranks far below California (32 percent) and Minnesota (34.2 percent).

This seems like a good time to note that in terms of education (and income, and a lot of other areas), Minnesota looks good on average, but has pretty bad racial disparities. Though when it comes to education, Mississippi and California aren’t exactly models of racial equity, either.


What about the economy?

When it comes to economics, California, in the immortal words of Tupac, keeps it rocking. It’s the sixth biggest economy in the world, though the numbers look slightly less impressive on a per-capita basis.

It ranks seventh among U.S. states in terms of gross state product (the value of all the goods and services an economy produces) per capita, at $66,000, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Minnesota’s per-capita gross state product edges somewhere near that, at about $61,000, earning it 13th place in the U.S. Meanwhile, Mississippi ranks 50th, at $36,029.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis
In terms of economic capacity, California is clearly the winner. But Minnesota comes out ahead when you look at another economic outcome: how many people are living in poverty. Minnesota’s poverty rate is 9.5 percent, one of the lowest in the U.S. That compares to a poverty rate of 13.3 percent in California and 19.8 percent in Mississippi.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau
There’s another aspect of the economy where Minnesota wins out, at least in this lineup: economic solvency, at least according to ratings agencies.

Bond rating institutions like Moody’s, S&P and Fitch assign credit ratings to states as a measure of how healthy their economies are — and how likely they are to be able to handle their debt load. Each of these institutions rates states on a different curve, but all of them rank Minnesota ahead of both Mississippi and California. (California’s rating is still recovering from a budget and cash flow crisis in 2008-09, and has enacted policies to make it a safer bet for lenders, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.) Both Moody’s and S&P put Minnesota in the middle of their top-tier bracket, while Fitch put Minnesota at the top rating as of January 2017.

Source: Pew Charitable Trusts

Craft beer

OK, so now we know where California, Minnesota and Mississippi fall along political, economic and social lines. But what about cool factor? California has surfing. Mississippi has the Blues. Minnesota has … cold? And craft beer.

Source: The Brewers Association
Minnesota, with 3.9 breweries per 100,000 adults who are 21 or older and a ranking of 13th, can’t compete with Vermont when it comes to craft breweries per capita (#1 among the 50 states.), but it can compete with California (22nd) and Mississippi (50th).

Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 10/23/2018 - 11:49 am.

    Academic outcomes in public schools is a bleak story across the nation. But it looks different when you compare what taxpayers in each of the states in question here fork out for all that failure.

    Consider, for the 4-12 point spread between them (none even close to 50%):

    California $11,495 per pupil

    Minnesota $12,382 per pupil

    Mississippi $8,702 per pupil

    It looks even worse for big spenders when you compare the statistics by race. Clearly, lavishing cash on the schools isn’t the answer, so which state carries out their fiduciary duties better?

    • Submitted by Eric House on 10/23/2018 - 12:16 pm.

      $12k average per pupil is lavish? Private school tuition in my area starts at $14k (Benilde S-M) Maybe we should try matching the funding levels for private schools and see what happens. in any case, even with room for improvement I’ll still take our outcomes over Mississippi.

      • Submitted by Gene Nelson on 10/23/2018 - 12:36 pm.

        Remember also that private schools do not have to deal with special needs students while public schools have to…as they should.

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/24/2018 - 12:00 am.

        And Catholic and other religious schools are cheaper than the secular private schools. St. Paul Academy charges about $27,000 per year, while Blake is $23,000.

        The parents who send their children to these schools are paying for things that some so-called “reformers” consider unnecessary for middle and working class students: small classes, a curriculum that gives a thorough grounding in the humanities and social and natural sciences, a rich range of extra-curricular activities, no standardized tests other than the SATs or ACTs, and a luxurious campus.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/24/2018 - 09:54 am.

          Private school tuition is not the same as the cost to educate a child in a private school. Most private schools have various fund raisers throughout out the year, in addition to asking alumni and past parents for financial support.

          There is nothing wrong with this, but it is important to compare apples to apples. It is the rare private school that makes it only on the tuition charged. For example, parishes typically subsidize the parish school. Additionally, parishes with schools pay a slightly lower assessment to the Archdiocese.

          • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/24/2018 - 10:30 am.

            Of course that’s true. The cost per pupil at the most expensive private schools is MORE than the sticker price. It’s also true that churches subsidize religious schools.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 10/23/2018 - 12:32 pm.

      Minnesota student’s average composite score of 21.5 (on a scale of 1 to 36) was higher than the national score of 21.0; and first among 17 states who had 100 percent of graduating class take the test.
      All student groups saw an increase in composite scores, with Black, Hispanic and Pacific Islanders each seeing a 0.5 point increase.
      31 percent of 2017 Minnesota graduates met all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks compared to 29 percent of 2016 test takers.
      45 percent (27,269) graduates indicated an interest in STEM college majors and/or careers.
      81 percent of test-takers indicated that they were taking three or more years of math, and 53 percent indicated they were taking physics.
      Graduates taking three or more years of math had an average math score of 22.2 compared to the average math score of 17.1 for students taking less than three years of math.

      Mississippi – 50th in health care
      Highest rate of infant deaths in the US
      Highest mortality rate of any state in the US
      Highest death rate from heart disease, hypertension, influenza and pneumonia in the US
      Fewest dentists in the US
      Highest obesity rate in the US
      Lowest per capita income in the US
      Lowest workforce participation rate in the US

      I guess if “fiduciary duties” includes keeping your citizens stupid, sick and poor, Mississippi is the garden spot of the US.

  2. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 10/23/2018 - 12:34 pm.

    The vast majority of WORST K-12 educational systems and poverty are located in repub states. A recent WSJ article rated the K-12 educational systems of all states and the bottom 10 were all repub, while another listed the best run states and the bottom 12-14 were all repub.
    A good comparison betweens states is MN and WI who elected govs. MN went Dem with Dayton and ended up moving the deficits to a surplus, top 5 economic growth and top ratings in a ton of benefits for its citizens. WI did not. With their larger population, WI had the most jobs, but now…under Dayton…we have more jobs with a smaller population and if you really want to study repub values…look at the destruction in KS under Brownback.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/24/2018 - 11:06 am.

      This is true, and should surprise no one. GOP politicians run by telling us that government can’t do anything right. When they win, they prove it.

      “Where’s Brownie? Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job!”

  3. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 10/23/2018 - 01:25 pm.

    From link

    In 2017, 30 percent of Minnesota graduates met zero ACT College Readiness Benchmarks.

    Average ACT Scores by State Graduating Class 2018

    Mississippi: 18.6
    Minnesota: 21.3

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 10/23/2018 - 02:19 pm.

      In Massachusetts, they spend $15,593 per pupil and have an average ACT score of 25.4.
      In Wisconsin, they spend $11,456 per pupil and have an average composite score of 20.5.

      So, to sum up (State / PP Cost / ACT Composite):
      Descending by cost per pupil
      MA: $15,593 / 25.4
      MN: $12,382 / 21.3
      CA: $11,495 / 22.8
      WI: $11,456 / 20.5
      MS: $8,702 / 18.6

      Using these 5 states, you can see a pretty clear correlation between funding levels and educational attainment (As measured by the ACT). California is actually getting more bang for the buck, and MN is indeed outperforming Mississippi. Not sure what you were trying to point out there.

      I couldn’t find historical data for 96/97, when I would have taken it, but the ACT average fluctuates year-to-year… so, if I got a 32 and John Q Public scored an 11 and we were the only two taking the ACT that year, you’d get an average of 21.5. Knowing what the median, and the most common (mode) scores would likely paint a more accurate picture than the composite.

      Regardless, pointing to a single standardized test as the measure of 100% of your schools’ success of failure is probably not advisable.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/23/2018 - 06:48 pm.

        You mistake the lack of education in Republican states as bug, rather than a feature. Authoritarians prefer their charges easier to manipulate…

  4. Submitted by Elsa Mack on 10/23/2018 - 01:57 pm.

    1) It doesn’t seem like there’s any need for Minnesota to emulate either state, but if I had to pick one, I’d sure rather live in California than Mississippi.

    2) I love the cute little hat and scarf our fair state is wearing. Thank you to Corey Anderson for the great illustration.

  5. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 10/23/2018 - 02:12 pm.

    “Minnesota’s poverty rate is 9.5 percent, one of the lowest in the U.S. That compares to a poverty rate of 13.3 percent in California and 19.8 percent in Mississippi.”

    Population Distribution by Race/Ethnicity
    Minnesota: White 80% Black 6%
    Mississippi: White 58% Black 37%

    Even with that incredible demographic profile, Minnesota has the 2nd worst wealth disparity between white/black in the country, and one of the worst minority graduation gaps.

    What would all those rosy numbers look like if y’all had a more diverse population? Cast stones not, Ye that live in glass houses.

  6. Submitted by Arthur Swenson on 10/23/2018 - 04:04 pm.

    Based on my experience living in Louisiana, Georgia & Mississippi while serving in the US Army, it’s not only blacks who are poorly educated in the Deep South.

  7. Submitted by Max Hailperin on 10/23/2018 - 04:18 pm.

    A better measure than state tax per capita is the sum of state and local taxes per capita because the states have the ability to shift the burden to or from the local level without any meaningful net effect on the citizens. (Minnesotans can recall occasions on which this has happened.) By that measure, Minnesota and California are much closer.

  8. Submitted by Pat Brady on 10/23/2018 - 04:22 pm.

    i remember that Tim Pawlenty used MIssissippi as an example of wanting to privatize some function of state governemnt.
    When he used that example I thought when did that state become a beacon MN should follow?
    It should be the other way around. MN is the beacon for other states.

  9. Submitted by John Evans on 10/23/2018 - 04:36 pm.

    Yes, we spend a lot on education, and we get fairly good, though mixed, results. But if you present it as a choice of whether to spend bigly on public education or not, the answer is that we obviously must spend the money if Minnesota is to avoid a serious decline in prosperity in the next generation.

    In the competition among states for private investment and lucrative jobs, Minnesota has an even worse geographic disadvantage than Wisconsin. We won’t get that kind of investment if we don’t have a really excellent education system.

    Yes, it is a high-tax strategy, but Minnesota’s success compared to its neighbor states shows that it is working. And it should be obvious by now that a low-tax strategy won’t work for us at all.

  10. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/23/2018 - 05:42 pm.

    That may be the tuition charged at B-SM, but it is not the total cost of educating a student. That would include all of the fundraising that is done to get the tuition that low.

  11. Submitted by Ted Hathaway on 10/23/2018 - 07:47 pm.

    RE: Craft Beer

    Uh, last time I visited, I noticed CA has a few wineries. Sorry, MN loses on that factor.

  12. Submitted by Dan Kaufman on 10/23/2018 - 08:46 pm.

    I moved from Minnesota to California 3 years ago (though I still follow Minnesota news and politics).

    You could do worse than California. There have been no republicans elected to state-wide office in 10+ years and the state runs great.

  13. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/24/2018 - 09:59 am.

    The guv candidates debate at Farm Fest, and other rural forums. We need them to debate urba issues at a site on the MPLS-Saint Paul border. As long as those snow flakes out state don’t get all up in arms.

  14. Submitted by Elsa Mack on 10/24/2018 - 10:52 am.

    My guess is that this is an effect of urban voters being reliable DFL voters already. Walz is trying to extend his appeal to rural voters; Johnson is trying to get Republicans jazzed up. It makes sense as a strategy, though I, too, would like to hear more about their views on public transportation and other urban issues.

  15. Submitted by Kent Fralish on 10/24/2018 - 02:00 pm.

    Can anyone say how many of our highly educated citizens stay here after all the money that we spent on their schooling?
    Compared to other states?

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/25/2018 - 07:29 am.

      Good question. But we know that our teachers stay here. They don’t go to Wisconsin, which slaps around its teachers and compensates them poorly. And I believe that many of the students that come from the neighboring states don’t return there, they like the higher wages and better job prospects here.

  16. Submitted by Jason Willett on 10/28/2018 - 10:17 am.

    I wonder if how we compare on some happiness measures? And if there is any evidence that state spending impacts it?

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