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Predictions of Minnesota’s economic demise were greatly exaggerated

This guest post was contributed by Nan Madden, director of the Minnesota Budget Project in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Minnesota is basking in some attention in news outlets across the nation highlighting its strong economy, low unemployment numbers and a median wage sitting above the national average.

That’s not the scenario painted two years ago by opponents of Minnesota’s tax reform bill. At the time, opponents predicted economic catastrophe. Instead, Minnesota is thriving.

In the last two years, Minnesota has made smart changes to its tax system that positions the state well for long-term economic growth. The 2013 tax reform plan came after years of budget deficits and deep cuts to public services, and it allowed the state to make investments that lay a strong foundation for prosperity, including increased funding for early childhood education, schools and more affordable higher education. These investments will pay off in the long run by producing the highly-educated workforce that has been one of the keystones to Minnesota’s economic success.

These changes also modernized the state’s tax system so that it generates adequate revenue for a thriving state in a 21st century economy, and made the distribution of taxes across income groups more even.

A vital component of the 2013 tax reform was the creation of a new income tax rate on the 2 percent of Minnesotans with the highest incomes. The package also raised revenues by ending several corporate tax preferences and increasing tobacco taxes. The 2013 tax reforms – as well as actions in 2014 – took additional steps to make Minnesota’s tax system less regressive. Lawmakers expanded Minnesota’s state Earned Income Tax Credit and increased property tax refunds for renters and homeowners.

And a study released earlier this year from the Minnesota Department of Revenue shows those efforts have moved us in the right direction. Overall, the tax changes made the past two years raised taxes on the highest-income Minnesotans closer to the state average, and lowered taxes for all other income groups. While our tax system is still regressive, meaning the percentage of income paid in taxes goes down as incomes rise, it will be significantly less so in 2017 than 2012. The highest-income Minnesotans still pay the smallest share of their incomes in total state and local taxes, but the gap between them and other Minnesotans has closed considerably.

After more than a decade of frequent budget deficits, Minnesota now is fortunate to have a $1.9 billion surplus for the upcoming two-year budget cycle. The surplus doesn’t mean the state should reverse course. As Minnesota’s legislative session enters its final weeks, we’re urging policymakers to continue on the path of making our tax system more fair and not offer large, unsustainable tax cuts to a privileged few.

While Minnesota’s economic success is making headlines today, the tax reforms taken over the last two years have set the stage for economic progress for years to come.

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