A recent Facebook video has me torn.
It was from Minnesota Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, a DFLer representing southeast Minneapolis and the adjacent suburbs. To paraphrase what she said in the video, it went like this:
Minneapolis is supporting the rest of the state, and my residents are sick of it. People want to move to my city. We have the population required to supply workers for jobs of the future. We have the tax base. And yet, we are, through the state aid program, supporting declining outstate Minnesota cities, paying for their roads, their police officers, their libraries. We want to keep our taxes in our district.
This video, by the way, was posted by a local resident who consistently posts conservative stuff. The video was accompanied by the words, “Democrats explain how they really think of rural Minnesota.”
The thing is, Sen. Torres Ray is factually correct.
In 2019, about $4 million of the Fergus Falls city’s $12 million budget, or about 32%, was from state aid to cities. What that means is that the state Legislature takes funds it receives from income tax, sales tax and other revenues and gives it to outstate Minnesota cities. While we all pay income taxes, the large population from the Twin Cities, which has 55% of the state’s population living on 7% of the state’s land, would suggest that, yes, taxes generated by Twin Cities residents helps pay for outstate Minnesota’s roads, police departments and libraries.
It’s also true that the populations and communities in rural Minnesota have been declining, or at least stagnant in the case of Fergus Falls, and the Twin Cities’ population has been growing.
What’s also true is that rural Minnesota has become dramatically Republican, voting for Donald Trump by a margin of about 65% in 2020. The Republican ideology has been, at least among traditional Republicans, no handouts, taxes should be low, that the free market should be allowed to work unregulated. If that’s the case, Torres Ray would suggest, then why should Twin Cities residents be handing over their tax dollars to outstate Minnesota communities?
It seems logical that a small government Republican, opposed to government handouts and in favor of tax cuts, would cut local government aid to cities and pass the savings on as income tax cuts.
But we know for a fact that, if that were to happen, local governments like Fergus Falls’ would be crushed. The Republican argument is that those tax cuts should boost the economy, which would then build the tax base. But do you really think that economic boost would be felt in outstate Minnesota the same way it would affect the Twin Cities? I’d bet a fiver that it would not.
Just to be clear, while I agree with Torres Ray’s facts, I don’t agree with her opinion. I’m not sure it’s a good thing for our state to “leave it to the market,” and essentially let all of the money and people flow to the Twin Cities while leaving outstate Minnesota a barren wasteland. As I write this as a passenger driving down a bumpy state highway, I can tell you that our government-funded roads aren’t exactly well-paved superhighways. And I’m not sure it’s a great idea to force cities to cut their police and fire services.
So there’s the dilemma that Republicans find themselves in. And it isn’t just a Minnesota problem. Any state where there are large cities surrounded by rural areas are getting Republican votes from the rural areas, and yet are subsidizing the local governments of those rural areas.
As for states which do not have major metropolitan areas, which went for Trump in a landslide, they end up getting far more federal money coming in than their populations pay out in income and corporate taxes.
So I ask the Republican and others who so thoroughly support Trumpism, who felt the Torres Ray’s comment proved that the liberals are not interested in “One Minnesota”: one should examine the ideologies his party subscribes to.
Joel Myhre is a resident of Fergus Falls.