Freedom to take workers’ liberty

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The legislative session is barely a week old and already Minnesota has been consumed by policy distractions and middle-class-killing proposals. Many come directly from corporate-sponsored ALEC model legislation.

ALEC’s legislation is dangerous because it’s deceptively titled, using words like freedom and liberty. In many cases, it also hides its true agenda behind reasonable sounding policy goals.

However, looking closely at ALEC’s model legislation, one starts to see the policy outcomes it seeks: giving corporations more freedom to take your liberty, lower your wages, decrease your medical benefits, and limit your retirement stability.

ALEC’s initial opponent has been public workers and unions, using rights these employees have earned over three-quarters of a century as a source of envy to divide them from the rest of a middle-class labor force that has already been exploited by corporate raiders. If it can limit union power, ALEC would be free to decimate any remaining state and federal labor protections the American workforce still enjoys.

Other ALEC proposals around state budgeting seek to push more of public services’ costs on to local governments and school districts, moving us further into tax regressivity—where low- and middle-income Minnesotans shoulder a disproportionately higher tax burden than the richest few.

Even before ALEC, Minnesota’s misleading “no-new-tax” policy produced a tiered Minnesota. Highly affluent communities’ property taxes supply the best schools, best roads, and best public services. Moderately high income communities can afford great schools, good roads and solid public services.

Then, there’s the rest of Minnesota, which has seen its portion of state revenue sharing diminish. Lower home values and limited community wealth in much of the state generate just enough property tax revenue to keep education quality level, provide periodic improvements for the most vital roads while letting the rest crumble, and maintain basic public safety while contracting all other community services.

This isn’t what made Minnesota a great state. We prospered because policymakers used efficient and progressive statewide revenue generation and sharing policies to ensure all communities provided high-quality education and public services. We invested in and cultivated all of our human capital.

We also prospered thanks to good corporate citizens—home-grown businesses that kept an eye on the bottom line while also taking care of all their workers.

If it takes selling out these ideals and letting corporate raiders come in and exploit our workers, strip our natural resources, loot our coffers and march on to the next cheap-labor state, then we should probably re-think our long-term economic development strategy.