Across southern Minnesota these recent news headlines tell uplifting stories of smart public investment – and yes, that’s our government and our tax dollars – providing lifeblood for our communities and businesses.
The community and technical college in Pipestone is ranked among the top 50 in the nation. State and federal agriculture departments announce success in efforts to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis. Federal aid and an improved state emergency response come to the rescue in the wake of freakish late September rainstorms and flooding, earning praise from the Winona Daily News. A bold new initiative by the Mayo Clinic and the U of M to defeat diabetes in a decade, and to build a bio-business complex in Rochester, are enabled with local tax dollars and major new state investments in southeastern Minnesota’s higher-education infrastructure.
These quality-of-life improvements should make voters from rural areas think long and hard about the latest anti-government craze, a budget-cutting frenzy that that would exacerbate the downsizing and damage already done to our vital public investments on Main Streets and to the basic fabric of rural life.
Let’s accept up front that more budget cuts will happen and rural Minnesotans will once again be part of that sacrifice. And every effort possible should be made to redesign and consolidate local governments, reduce unnecessary duplication of local services by counties and cities and townships, and make governments function more efficiently.
But a cuts-only budgeting approach, which could mean slashing our state public investments by as much as 20 percent, makes even less bottom-line sense for Greater Minnesota than it does for the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Nor does it make sense to embrace tax laws and policies that give further special advantage to the very wealthiest Minnesotans, very few of whom live in rural areas or outside the most affluent metropolitan neighborhoods.
Here is an overwhelmingly important fact of life: person-for-person, Greater Minnesotans rely on public stuff – assets provided by federal, state and local governments – significantly more than urban an suburban dwellers.
Over many years, statistics from the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Census Bureau and many reputable research organizations have shown the disproportionate per capita reliance of non-metro and rural regions on the public sector.
For instance, transfer payments for individuals from Social Security and other federal and state programs account for about 20 percent of total personal income for Minnesota’s rural regions, where the population in general is older and less affluent, compared to 10 percent for metro residents, according to our recent analysis at Growth & Justice. And aid from state and federal government amounts to 40 percent of revenue for local governments in non-metro counties, compared to about 20 percent for metro counties.
This does not justify finger-pointing by right-wing government bashers or urban liberal elites who would condescendingly suggest that rural folks are on welfare.
Page 2 of 2 - It’s simply a fact of life that some regions and parts of our society rely more on public resources, and others, especially wealthier communities, benefit less immediately and directly from public expenditures.
Farmers on average get more of their income and other benefits from taxes and government than do lawyers or accountants. And with lower population densities in rural areas, roads and schools serve fewer people, leading to higher per-person costs. But we need farmers just as much as we need accountants, and in the end, everybody benefits from the common good done every day by our mostly effective democratic governments and public assets.
An even larger truth is that we Twin Citians owe a great deal to rural and Greater Minnesota and the people who are stewards of most of the land in this superior state. Our brainpower and our character and our wealth are drawn from the towns, farm fields, forests and lakeshores of one of the most beautiful and abundant states in our nation. And it behooves the next governor take better care of this golden goose in the form of sustained and smarter investment.
Dane Smith is president of Growth and Justice.