For Growth and For Justice
|For Growth and For Justice
The Minneapolis Observer | March 1, 2004
By Craig Cox
We have long been blessed in this city with a thriving and vital community of "big picture" think tanks. From the Humphrey Institute and the Citizens League to the Center of the American Experiment and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, these hubs of intellectual risk-taking have done much to shape the way we see the world. We don't always agree with their analysis or subscribe to their remedies, but we are better for the work that they do.
So it was with some mixture of glee and anticipation that we encountered this past week the inaugural report from a new member of this proud fraternity, Growth & Justice. Created by former Star Tribune publisher Joel Kramer, the Minneapolis-based think tank is devoted to building a local economy that is more "prosperous, fair, and sustainable." While this may sound like your basic liberal cant, the politics of Kramer's group cannot be easily categorized. Among its more than 60 advisers are former governor Arne Carlson, former congressman Arlen Erdahl, and current Met Council chair Peter Bell, rubbing intellectual elbows with former mayors Don Fraser and George Latimer, Project for Pride in Living founder Joe Selvaggio and Wellstone Action director Jeff Blodgett.
What seems to be holding these divergent political views together becomes clear in Workforce First, the culmination of nine months of research and roundtable discussions focusing on building a sustainable, just, and growing economy. Among its conclusions:
- Minnesota is losing ground academically, as the number of residents seeking post-secondary degrees is declining while the gap between the rich and poor in academic pursuits is widening. Because an educated workforce is key to economic growth, the report recommends that the state increase the number of two- and three-year degrees by about 30 percent by lowering the barriers to higher education.
- The state should boost training opportunities for an additional 15,000 low-skilled workers a year by rewarding nonprofit training organizations based on the number of people they effectively serve.
- It's time to stop using tax incentives to lure businesses to specific locations. Rather, the state should reward businesses that most effectively create jobs and raise wages.
- Minnesota should double its funding for the Working Family Credit as a way to support the working poor.
All this could be achieved with a state investment of about $500 million more than is currently being spent each year on these initiatives, the study concludes. It's a price tag sure to shock the Pawlenty administration and its no-tax supporters at the Capitol, but for practical-minded Minnesotans who understand the importance of building a strong economy from the bottom up, Workforce First and its authors could represent a refreshing new vision for the state.