Here are 10 bold ideas for the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz to implement this legislative session:
Adopt the Finnish education system
The most important strategic investment Minnesota can make in the future of our state is to educate its young people. Let's immediately adopt the Finnish education model. This link with information about the Finnish education system is instructive. Finland has 5.5 million people; Minnesota has 5.6 million. With political courage and cooperation from all stakeholders, this option is entirely doable.
Create a Bank of Minnesota
The Bank of North Dakota was founded in 1919 by the Nonpartisan League to protect farmers from foreclosure at the hands of predatory commercial banks. The bank's founding was controversial. Today, any talk of shutting down the bank is the third rail of politics in decidedly conservative North Dakota. The Bank of North Dakota is the engine that supports rural development, small businesses and students seeking affordable loans for higher education, among many other financial services.
Recognize Minnesota as a maritime state
In partnership with Wisconsin and Congress, Minnesota should expand the Duluth-Superior Port, doubling shipping and cargo handling capacity. Climate change is real, and now inevitable, and the Great Lakes will be without ice, year-round, in a matter of years. Economic opportunity afforded by our maritime connections through Duluth further expands trade for Minnesota's industries and farmers.
Become a zero-waste society
Minnesota's 5.6 million citizens produce a lot of waste. Sadly, a woefully inadequate percentage of that waste is recycled. Sweden, with 10.4 million people, has solved the dilemma and has improved on waste management every year since adopting its zero-waste initiative (see tinyurl.com/sweden-waste). Providing financial incentives to Minnesota's many waste management companies to reduce, process or recycle all waste is a smart, strategic investment in managing our garbage and protecting the environment. By the way — Sweden no longer needs landfills.
Protect Minnesota's wilderness heritage
The Legislature should purchase the Modular Airborne Firefighting System for the entire fleet of Minnesota Air National Guard C-130s. If Canada can lose 47.5 million acres in forest fires in 2023 alone, then Minnesota can, too. This will save lives, property and our forest habitat.
Minnesota should mandate a comprehensive water joint study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Assess our waters for pollutants (PFAS, nitrogen, sulfates, sodium chloride, et al.), then fund cleaning of our impaired waters. Add stringent regulations to end water pollution. Minnesota's Impaired Waters List contains 2,956 separate entries for lakes, rivers and tributaries. We're out of time.
Finally, change the DNR's mission from one of natural resource exploitation to a mission of conserving and protecting Minnesota's wilderness heritage so our grandchildren's grandchildren can marvel at Minnesota's wildlife and wild places as we do today.
Modernize Minnesota's tax collection system
Minnesota should create the first fully automated state taxation system, ending reliance on accountants, tax attorneys or complicated tax software. Put out a request-for-proposal to find a major information technology company to build it. Minnesota IT can then supervise the selected contractor's performance. Remember the MNLARS fiasco.
End the state-level corporate income tax through incentives
Minnesota should be the nation's best for businesses. Create an incentive program for businesses to reduce or eliminate their corporate income tax by:
- Paying a modern living wage, which is around $26 an hour.
- Ending workplace hazards ("zero injuries" maintained for two years would net more reductions).
- Ending the use of nondisclosure agreements and adopting a transparent pay system.
- Bringing pollution footprints to zero to earn a sizable reduction.
- Ending reliance on fossil fuels to power the place of business (after which all remaining corporate income tax would be eliminated).
This idea means more money in workers' pockets, reductions in industrial pollution and climate-warming gases, and creates safer, more competitive workplaces.
Cut government bureaucracy
Minnesota has 87 counties for 5.6 million people; 3.9 million live in the seven-county metropolitan area. Florida has 67 counties for 22 million people; California has 58 counties with 40 million people. Minnesota doesn't need 80 counties to provide government services for the remaining 1.7 million people, especially when those county lines are drawn without any rational boundary lines.
Minnesota should look at creating new counties based on natural geography and major man-made infrastructure, like Interstate Hwys. 35, 90 and 94. Minnesotans pay taxes at the federal, state, county and municipal levels of government. Based on our population, 12 to 15 counties are probably enough and would ensure that we don't pay more taxes than are needed.
Understand that guaranteed basic income works
Hundreds of guaranteed basic income (GBI) studies have been completed globally. GBI combats poverty by cutting bureaucratic costs and, instead, sending a monthly stipend directly to eligible recipients. Eligibility could be assessed through the state's new automated personal income tax system. Adopting this program means Minnesota can cut hundreds, if not thousands, of government jobs in the Department of Human Services and in the new county governments.
Give democracy back to the people
Our state desperately needs campaign finance and other reforms. Shift to publicly funded political campaigns, like Connecticut already uses. Set term limits for constitutional officers and state legislators — 12 years in any seat seems reasonable. Abolish partisan House and Senate caucus fundraising and spending during elections. Get rid of partisan staff members in the Minnesota House and Senate whose salaries are currently paid by Minnesota tax dollars. Create a nonpartisan citizens' panel for political redistricting, as eight other states have already done. And, finally, mandate that all political contributions are completely transparent, so we know who is trying to buy our elections.
Jon Olson, a retired U.S. Navy commander, teaches national security courses at Carleton College and the Humphrey School, and authors national security thrillers with David Bruns. He was a candidate for the Minnesota Senate in 2020, and hosted "National Security This Week" on KYMN Radio in Northfield weekly for three years.