Archived Story

Wis. keeps getting redder and Minn. bluer

Published 10:39am Thursday, June 27, 2013

Column: Guest Column, by Phil Krinkie

Today there is more than the St. Croix River that divides Minnesota from Wisconsin. Over the past two years there has been a growing political divide. While Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker may have the same overarching objectives of creating jobs and improving the economy, their solutions for achieving these goals are as different as day and night.

Phil Krinkie
Phil Krinkie

As a backdrop to this contrast in political styles, it is helpful to remember that both Dayton and Walker replaced governors of the opposite party. Dayton replaced two-term Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Walker took the seat of Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle.

More political drama played out for these two new governors during their first years in office. Gov. Dayton faced Republican majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and was unable to negotiate a budget agreement until after a protracted government shut down. While on the other side of the river Gov. Walker faced a turbulent recall election after he pushed through legislation that removed certain bargaining rights for public employees.

Both Dayton and Walker survived these early challenges and solidified their leadership positions.

Despite the broad differences in the current political landscape, there are a large number of similarities in demographics and economics of the two states. According to the 2010 census both Minnesota and Wisconsin have a population 5.3 million, with more than 85 percent of people being white. The division between rural and urban populations is similar with Minnesota at 73 percent urban and 27 percent rural and Wisconsin having 68 percent urban and 32 percent rural.

The geographic size of the two states may differ with Minnesota being the 12th largest state and Wisconsin being the 20th in size, but the gross domestic product of the two states is very close. Minnesota’s GDP ranks 17th among the 50 states at $267 billion, while Wisconsin ranks 20th in GDP at $251 billion.

But these look-alike demographics and economics have not lead to similar politics. Since 2011 Wisconsin has had a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled House and Senate. On this side of the border the Democrats gained control of both legislative chambers in last fall’s elections giving the DFL control of all three branches of state government for the first time in more than 20 years.

Ever since the election of these two governors in 2010, Minnesota has been getting bluer and Wisconsin is becoming redder. The one exception would be that President Barack Obama won re-election in both states by similar margins in November 2012.

As the political divide has widened between the states, so has the public policy direction. Two key examples are the hotly debated issues of requiring picture identification to vote and gay marriage. While both issues were defeated by voters last fall in Minnesota, Wisconsin previously passed a photo ID law, and the issue of gay marriage was decided in Wisconsin with the passage of a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage in 2006.

But this year’s respective legislative sessions prove there is a widening policy gap between the two states. On the health care front, Minnesota adopted an Obamacare blue print for a Health Care Exchange and expanded health care coverage for low income adults. Across the border, Wisconsin refused to set up a Health Care Exchange and did not implement the federal Medicaid expansion rules.

In the education arena, Wisconsin this year chose to expand vouchers for K-12 students statewide, sending more public aid to private schools. In Minnesota Democrats increased funding to K-12 schools by $700 million including the addition of free all-day kindergarten.

But the biggest difference in public policy comes on the tax front. In Minnesota, Gov. Dayton and the Democrats pushed through a $2.1 billion tax increase that included an income tax rate increase of 25 percent on incomes over $150,000. They also included a whopping $1.60 per pack increase on cigarettes and an expansion of numerous sales taxes. In addition the Legislature gave all counties the option to increase local sales taxes and impose a wheelage tax for roads.

By contrast Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature in Wisconsin passed a tax cut. The almost $700 million tax-cut bill reduces the number of income tax brackets from five to four, with more than 50 percent of the tax cut going to those earning more than $100,000 a year. When Gov. Dayton was asked for a response to the Wisconsin tax plan, he said “We have a formula that works for us…”

As the public policy divide between the two states continues to grow, no one knows what the response from the voters will be to the actions of their legislators and the governors. But with both Gov. Dayton and Gov. Walker facing re-election in 2014, there are bound to be more hits than in a Packers-Vikings game. The question is, will we return a divided government or will we continue on the path of political polarization?

Stay tuned for the continuing economic and political drama of red state versus blue state or Minnesota versus Wisconsin.


Phil Krinkie, a former eight-term Republican state rep from Shoreview who chaired the House Tax Committee for a while, is president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. You can contact him at: