2013-14 Minnesota Legislative Session Might Be Best for Economic Equity in 40 Years

WRITTEN BY DANE SMITH AND MAUREEN RAMIREZ, GROWTH & JUSTICE

The 88th Minnesota Legislature (2013-2014 sessions)may be viewed in coming years as a historic moment for policies and investments that improve the condition of Minnesotans living in poverty and for other vulnerable households. In fact, we think a case can be made that the 88th Legislature provided the most economic benefit since the so-called “miracle” years of the 1970s for those households that rank in the bottom 20 percent in income (or roughly $25,000 per year).  

Many organizations, including Growth & Justice, worked tirelessly to educate and inform legislators about Minnesota’s income inequality, racial disparities, and the strategies to reverse them. In between the 2013 and 2014 sessions, House Speaker Paul Thissen invited Growth & Justice Policy Fellows Jay Coggins and Thomas Legg, professors at the University of Minnesota, to present our “Widening Inequality in Minnesota” report to the joint House-Senate Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy. That study documented a sharp rise in the share of Minnesota wealth and income enjoyed by those at the top, an actual decline in median income for the middle incomes and, and a rising poverty rate left by the Great Recession of 2008-09. We also shared with legislators the recommendations from our “Workforce Equity for a Competitive Economy,” project, which outlines the “Inseparable Imperatives” of racial equity, improved workforce training, and job growth.

That context, supported with evidence from many other sources about our emerging inequality crisis and its threat to our Minnesota economy, helped set the stage. When it was over, the 2013-14 biennium was celebrated by dozens of non-profit, religious and philanthropic organizations for breakthrough investments in those who have benefited least from overall economic growth in recent decades.

Here’s a partial list of accomplishments, and a quick assessment of their approximate impact:

Whether these advances turn out to be a historic blip or the beginning of a sustained course toward more equitable public policy in Minnesota remains to be seen. We hope and will strive for the latter because decades of widening inequality will take years to undo. But either way, the 88th Legislature made a big difference for the lives of low-income Minnesotans.

Dane Smith is the president and Maureen Ramirez is the policy and research director for Growth & Justice, a policy research and advocacy organization that aims to broaden prosperity and reduce economic and racial disparities in Minnesota.  Smith is a former journalist with 30 years of experience covering government and politics for the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.   Ramirez was formerly a member of the Board of Regents for the University of Minnesota.