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Jousting with the King

Date Published: 10/28/2009


(This is a response to the right honorable King Banaian, of SCSU Scholars blog, who has the coolest name in the Minnesota blogosphere, and who also is a fairly responsible adversary.)

Dear King,

You raise some fair points in your critique of our recent post, in which we demonstrate that Minnesota state and local governments actually are taking a smaller share of our income throughout this decade, and in which we further posit that this smaller government and lower tax rates have not delivered the economic boom that anti-tax conservatives promised. (More on this point today in the latest Capitol Report/Legal Ledger.)

As you point out, we do have a more volatile revenue system (bigger surpluses in expansions, bigger deficits in contractions) than most states, and this certainly is a factor in creating more severe budget shortages than in other states. And there is some random evidence, as you point out, that Minnesota's economy very recently is again doing better than the national average. (Big news this week was the #1 Twin Cities ranking in home value appreciation.)

Nevertheless, we don't see how you demonstrate that this volatility can be the main factor that permanently shrunk our revenues as a share of our income.

Revenues as a percentage of income are largely a function of tax rates. The shrinkage came from major and permanent income tax rate cuts, then a refusal to significantly raise state tax rates or impose new state taxes during the immediately ensuing shortfalls. Contrary to your argument, tax policies did make a major difference and Gov. Pawlenty himself takes credit for his policies shrinking government when he preaches to his conservative base. 

But we would also acknowledge that we would have had shortfalls even if we hadn't cut taxes, because the spending base would have been larger, and downturns always create shortages. That's a point you could have raised, but didn't. So give us points for fairness and good faith. 

Second, we think  there is a broad consensus that Minnesota's economic performance this decade, overall and relative to other states and the national averages, is not as impressive as it was in the three previous decades.  In the very same Budget Trends Commission document that you cite in making the point on volatility, this is the second main bullet point: "Despite continuing to rank high among many key social and economic indicators, Minnesota

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Business · Tax Fairness · Taxes


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