Business ranking affirms good policy

Published 9:01 am Thursday, July 2, 2015

Those who might write off Minnesota as a state with a good business climate may find themselves with a tougher case to make given a recent No. 1 ranking by CNBC, the credible and influential business news organization.

The network ranked Minnesota tops in state business climate focusing on the quality and education of our workforce, educational opportunities in general and quality of life. Of course, it’s no secret Minnesota taxes are higher than many states. And Gov. Mark Dayton successfully raised income tax rates on the wealthiest Minnesotans just a few years ago.

While CNBC considers those factors, the ultimate No. 1 ranking appears to suggest that workforce strength and quality of life may be more important than tax rates.

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The higher taxes help pay for the quality of life and workforce education. A number of studies have shown such investments pay dividends in worker productivity and prudent management of civic resources.

Minnesota has laws to keep the state’s pristine water resources clean and viable for recreation and enjoyment. Taxes pay for the enforcement of those laws.

The same narrative plays out for education. The state and its taxpayers fund a vast network of public schools and colleges making access for virtually any income group within reach with reasonable fees and public funding. Hence, employers have to spend very little time and money training employees or getting them a remedial education.

Many of these investments — spending — are not easily tracked or connected to a hard and fast return on investment. But reasonable people can see the payoffs.

Still, state leaders shouldn’t rest on their laurels too much. Budgets and spending policy driving legislative decisions could be improved. While some have urged Minnesota adopt a zero-based budgeting plan — removing the assumption a program is needed every year — those ideas have gained little momentum.

While the legislative auditor conducts systematic and credible program evaluations, there appears to be very little wholesale change to even programs shown to be performing poorly. There appears to be no “duplication of services” task force, who could be charged with making sure things like public college academic programs aren’t duplicated all over the state.

The Mankato Free Press

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