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Minnesota Republicans want to follow Wisconsin's lead, data says maybe they shouldn't

Minnesota Republicans want to follow Wisconsin's lead, data says maybe they shouldn't


In a fight between a badger and a gopher, who would win?

That question — at least figuratively — continues to drive economic and political debates in the neighboring states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. West of the Mississippi lies a vision implemented by a progressive governor representing Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party; to the east is conservative Gov. Scott Walker's Wisconsin.

The four Republican candidates aiming to challenge Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton have all campaigned on plans to follow economic policies similar to those of Walker and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, reported Louis D. Johnston, economics reporter for MinnPost and professor at Saint John's University.

Walker fever has even spread to the state's congressional race, where Stewart Mills III hired some of the governor's top campaign advisers to assist his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat.

On the issue of collective bargaining, gubernatorial primary candidate Jeff Johnson said his plan would be "to go all Scott Walker on Minnesota."

Johnson backed off slightly during a debate among the four Republicans at the end of July. He said he thought Walker had moved too quickly in implementing Act 10, his signature legislation that significantly curbed the collective bargaining rights of most public employees, and that he'd first like to "start a conversation" about banning public employees from being required to pay union dues.

Fellow primary candidate Scott Honour said that was a "defeatist attitude," and that the state needs to "take this on."

For MinnPost, Johnston examined Honour's economic plan and compared Minnesota, Kansas and Wisconsin in the five areas the candidate set as goals.

The result of the comparison? Minnesota might be better off looking elsewhere — or inward — for inspiration.

Some key takeaways:

  • Minnesota leads the upper Midwest in job creation, with 8.8 percent growth since 2010. Kansas saw 6.6 percent growth during that period, while Wisconsin is tied with South Dakota at 6.3 percent.
  • In 2013, Minnesotans earned about 106 percent of the national average income after taxes. Kansans earned almost the national average, at 99 percent, and Wisconsinites earned 97 percent.
  • Wisconsin leads the three states in private-sector employment as a percent of total employment, at 85.4 percent in 2013 — but Minnesota is on its heels at 85.1 percent. Kansas trails at 81.3 percent.
  • Looking at the period when the recession began, in December 2007, through June 2014, Minnesota was the only state where private-sector employment increased — albeit slightly, by 0.3 percent. It fell by 0.6 percent in Kansas and 2.2 percent in Wisconsin.
  • Minnesota has the ninth-lowest long-term unemployment in the country, as well as the ninth-lowest broad measure of unemployment, which includes “marginally attached workers” and those working part-time for economic reasons. Kansas ranks 12th in long-term unemployment and 11th on the broad measure. Wisconsin is 22nd in long-term unemployment and 19th in the broad measure.
  • All three states have labor force participation rates that are higher than the national average. Wisconsin leads Kansas, with 108 percent to 107 percent. But Minnesota takes the lead with 111 percent participation.

"I can only hope that the Republican gubernatorial candidates think that Minnesota can do even better by adopting policies similar to those of Kansas and Wisconsin," Johnston wrote. "They certainly don’t want Minnesota to fall backwards to the levels of employment and income in those states."


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Jessie Opoien is the Capital Times' opinion editor. She joined the Cap Times in 2013, covering state government and politics for the bulk of her time as a reporter. She has also covered music, culture and education in Madison and Oshkosh.

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