By Amanda Litvinov
Minnesota and Wisconsin, nestled together in the middle of the country, are often thought of as sister states. But for all their similarities in climate and demographics and culture, the two states diverged in 2010 when they elected governors who are mirror opposites in economic priorities and policies.
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Where extremist Gov. Walker has battered Wisconsin workers’ rights and mocked the idea of raising the minimum wage, Gov. Dayton has helped labor grow and was outspoken on the need for fair wages. He signed a bill this month that will raise Minnesota’s minimum wage from $6.15 an hour to $9.50 by 2016.
Their tax policies, too, have not only directly affected students and educators, but also had great impact on their states’ fiscal standing.
Gov. Dayton stayed true to his campaign promise to ask everyone to in Minnesota to pay their fair share in taxes–including rich corporations and CEOs. It doesn’t appear to have deterred businesses operations there; a recent analysis shows Minnesota is among the top five fastest growing state economies and private-sector job creation exceeds pre-recession levels.
After committing half of the resulting revenue to balancing the budget (as required by the state constitution) Dayton and allies invested nearly three-quarters of the remaining funds in public education, with a focus on all-day kindergarten and expanding access to early childhood education.
Wisconsin students and families, meanwhile, have suffered.
Upon taking office, Gov. Walker touted himself as a job creator, and even promised to add 250,000 jobs to Wisconsin’s economy with his “business friendly policies.” Turns out, giving corporations millions in tax handouts doesn’t inspire them to hire people–Wisconsin has plummeted to 42nd in the nation in job creation.
Walker & Co. offset their sweeping tax cuts and a $300 million funding increase to an unaccountable, private school voucher scheme by cutting $1.6 billion from public education, the largest cuts to education spending in Wisconsin history.
“I never thought in a million years that Wisconsin would attack the educators and children,” said elementary school teacher Diane Prefontaine of Green Bay.
“But Scott Walker is just a puppet for the millionaire and billionaire groups who want to give themselves and their wealthy friends more breaks and force school systems to have voucher programs that will drain funding from the public schools that teach ALL children, not just the privileged.”
Govs. Walker and Dayton both face re-election this year. Voters in 34 other states will also cast ballots in governors’ races.
“Don’t follow in the footsteps of the current leadership in Wisconsin,” said educator Prefontaine. “We need to invest in our schools, not take more away.”