Gadfly: “Minnesota Nice” Is Getting Real Ugly

Ed Raymond

Minnesota used to be among the best states in the Union in which to live.  Yes, we paid moderate taxes–but we had a quality life. That’s why 21 Fortune 500 companies settled in Minnesota and none have enriched the lives of North and South Dakotans in their tax havens. Oh, I know most  of the credit card companies in the U.S. have settled in SD because of taxes or the lack thereof, but who wants to live in a state dominated by the Wall Street casinos hawking their credit default swaps Roulette, their derivatives blackjack double-down, and their debt collaterization strip poker? Minnesota libraries actually spent money on books and other learning materials for use by all citizens. We spent money building new roads, bridges, and parks. And fixing old ones before they dropped into rivers. We used to support systems of public higher education so that families who made the median wage could have their children graduate from Moorhead State or the University of Minnesota without driving both parents and children into deep debt.

We used to have the Andersons, Wendell and Elmer, from both political parties serve the common good as governors so well that very few thought of their political ideology. We also had Arne Carlson, Al Quie, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Harold LeVander. They put the state and country first. Both parties used to work on Minnesota Miracles and Minnesota  Mundane so that government served all the greater and lesser people in the state, whether they lived on Lake Minnetonka or Red Lake.

The Spread Of The Ronny And Nancy Traumatic Greed Disorder

But in the 1980's the Ronny and Nancy Traumatic Greed Disorder (RNTGD) was introduced to the state and country, spreading like the Black Plague, creating an insatiable thirst for the green.

After being infected with RNTGD, the rich boys and girls in Edina, Wayzata, Lakeville, and Lake Minnetonka decided to buy a piece of meat and make him governor if he behaved. So Governor Timothy “Toolittle”  Pawlenty took his “no-new-taxes” pledge and obeyed his 50  millionaire masters. If we think back, “Toolittle” really never had an original thought. He was not a Conservative. He was a Pander. Conservatives think of the future of a country, state, and community, not just the next quarter bottom line.  He was a new Republican, a Know-Nothing filled with ignorance of science and reality. He represented Lake Wobegon, a mythical place where everyone is cute and above average. Do what your corporate masters tell you to do. Tim, you are a looker. Nice hair and teeth, slender body, a talk-show host with a gift of making drivel sound philosophical. We can turn you into a star. Perhaps we can even run you for president. But you have to be a robot on taxes, abortion, religion, health care, and business regulations.

That’s the beginning of real ugly.

The Attempt To Turn Minnesota Into Mississota

Remember the Jesse Ventura tax cuts in 1999-2001?  Remember how the state was to assume a bigger load of both K-12 and higher education?  Then came Toolittle and his Grover Norquist lookalikes. Then came the Bush tax cuts and life on the credit card. Nice became ugly. Among government shutdown threats came Wall Street, Enron, and Mafia accounting practices. Let’s rob Peter. He’s mentally and physically disabled, sick, afflicted, and young or old, and give the green to Paul who lives in Lake Minnetonka and has a place in the Bahamas. The corporate representatives said: “Let’s borrow, steal, and delay $2.1 billion from school kids to ‘balance’ the budget. The school districts can borrow blood money from local bankers to meet payroll and pay for heat and lights.”  Would Arne Carlson or Rudy Perpich pull this crap?  Then the corporate representatives said: “Look at all that future tobacco money! An absolute windfall to use for our budget balancing scam!”  Would Al Quie or Wendell Anderson pull this crap?  Minnesota used to be a state that worked. The Know-Nothings have now made it the state that can’t work. They do plan on drowning government in the bathtub. They have already filled that bathtub with Asian carp, carbon dioxide, zebra mussels, carcinogens, and fluorocarbons by ignoring science, but at least an ugly death won’t take long. We even drink water that is certified to have 212 different chemicals in it.

No Wonder Minnesota Doesn’t Work

Maintaining a complex society so that all persons great and small can have a quality life costs money. With all the political harangues and propaganda used in the last two elections Minnesotans have probably forgotten one fact: the 2010-11 general fund budget is less than it was back in the late 1990's after adjusting for inflation. This is the section of the budget that provides public services–-education at all levels, public safety programs and personnel, and safety nets for the poor, sick, and disabled. Next quarter thinking has replaced next decade planning. Ugly.

The Ronny and Nancy Greed Syndrome started to hit home in the middle 1980's. Before this plague hit, many Minnesota businesses dedicated five percent of their pretax profits to charity. One notable business was Dayton’s Department Stores. Very few participating businesses are left. With the new “winner-take-all” Chamber of Commerce and shareholder attitudes, corporations are interested only in profits, not jobs, not their own workers, and not even the environment we all live in. If they pollute the community, so what?  We hear a lot about “business climate” from economic development folks.  We don’t hear much about community development these days. Business climate means paying less taxes, lower salaries and benefits to workers, and fewer regulations controlling Enron, Tyco, and Goldman-Sachs. Maybe these are reasons why we don’t have a viable middle class left. 

Valley sugar beet farmers seemed to focus only on their bottom lines, not the bottom lines of their small town businesses where they live---where many locked-out Crystal Sugar workers live. What is really behind this strike? The local corporate press just never seems to come up with the real reason behind the strike. Is it leased equipment and contract workers? What is the contract language that provoked the overwhelming strike vote? Neither Crystal Sugar or union executives have made much sense. On any scale this strike is an ugly ten.

How Can A State Cut Taxes And School Budgets And Still Train Workers?

I see Minnesota businesses at Governor Mark Dayton’s business forums are complaining  they can’t find trained workers. Gee, that’s funny. The businesses support Chamber of Commerce groups that consistently recommend their lobbyists oppose increases in both K-12, voc ed, and higher ed. How many state businesses opposed the Republican-inspired raiding of education funds to balance the budget? How many supported their local school districts when special levies were necessary to maintain quality? The only answer is ugly.

A letter-to-the-editor of the Tribune asks embarrassing questions about training workers: “What happened to apprenticeships? What happened to company-run or -sponsored employee training programs?...These same business interests expect other taxpayers to train their employees.” But in the meantime they want their taxes cut and school budgets reduced. And higher ed for Minnesota middle-class students? A family making the current median income of $49,445 cannot afford to pay $20,630 a year for a son or daughter to attend the University of Minnesota. That’s a private college rate for many.  Between 1982 and 2010 college tuition has gone up 538 percent. That’s real ugly.

Minnesota middle-class families will find research on economic census data and political parties between 1948 and 2005 conducted by Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels interesting. Their income grew twice as fast when a Democrat held the White House as when a Republican held the office. Income for the working poor was six times higher under Democratic presidents. The affluent, always living a charmed and paid-for life, did equally well under either political party. That is not exactly a surprise.

It’s Only Fitting In These Tough Times We Build A Colosseum For Our Viking Gladiators

First, let’s get one thing straight. I like to watch football. It’s not a brainy game like baseball where a player has to figure what he will do when certain things happen before they happen. A line drive down the right field line? How fast is the runner? What kind of arm does the right fielder have? Which base do I throw it to? Where will the cutoff man be if the runner is going to third? What pitch do I throw to this curveball hitter?The Cardinals did a much better job than the Rangers at the little things in the recent World Series. I suspect the Cardinals have higher IQs. I prefer baseball but I played eight years of both. 

I went to college because I could play both. Won eight letters. Was elected co–captain of the football team and made the All-Conference team. I earned enough money playing Minnesota “amateur” baseball in the summer to pay a lot of expenses. I appreciate what sports can do and what a nice diversion they can be for a lot of people. But lets not go bonkers. The Vikings need a $1.2 billion Colosseum like Bill Gates needs another billion.

Why is Dayton pushing for a new stadium? I suppose he does not want to be blamed if the frigid Vikings move to toasty  LA. He should be reminding people there are at least 40 studies that say new stadiums have no effect on the economics of a city. Again and again the research shows there are only a certain number of entertainment dollars in a community and they are all spent.  And what is a nice boy like Morrie Lanning doing carrying water for Zygi Wilf and his friends in Wayzata and Lake Minnetonka? Geez! Is Morrie thinking of following in the governing footsteps of “Toolittle?”

The LA Times Does Not Even Mention The Vikings

I happen to read the LA Times every morning to see what Jerry Brown and the Left Coast are doing. There are people in LA who are working to build a stadium, but the local economic studies simply repeat what all other studies have. New stadiums provide a whole lot of lousy part-time jobs. You can build new Colosseums out in the boonies near a city (like Arden Hills) but then you spend hundreds of millions building roads, bridges, sewers, and other infrastructure for fans to get there.  The Vikings have never even been mentioned as a possible LA team. The LA boys are actually after the San Diego Chargers because they have money problems.

I see some people are promoting the use of Legacy money to build a Viking Colosseum. They are saying a Colosseum can be a “cultural asset!”  Can you imagine calling the Vikings a “cultural asset?!”  To be a complete facility for Viking use, it should include at least a four-cell jail for team members. To have the state spend $650 million on a $1.2 billion Colosseum is a sure sign that the decline and fall of the American Empire is nearer than we thought.  How many middle-class families of four can afford to waste 500 bucks on three hours of watching drunks throw up in the stands? Alcohol has become such a problem in all baseball and football Colosseums very few families attend. When tailgaters arrive at the parking lot early and start boozing at eight for a noon game you know there’s going to be trouble in River City.

We have high school English teachers with more than 40 students in class. The other day we had our first felony charges in Minnesota for cruelty to horses. Some have starved to death, having become victims of the decline of the middle-class. City libraries have closed due to lack of funds. Do you mean to tell me that building million-dollar suites for billionaires so they can get their business tax deductions and look down on the pissants is more important than providing equal education and safe bridges? That’s absolutely ugly.