I’ve been pondering your recent “Dakota Roots” visits to Minnesota’s Mall of America to recruit South Dakota expatriates to return to their native state to strengthen South Dakota’s economy. As the Star Tribune explains:
Dakota Roots was first launched under Daugaard’s predecessor (Republican Governor Mike Rounds) to address the state’s vexing problem. South Dakota needs more workers to take full advantage of its low unemployment rate (4.3 percent) and 10,000 unfilled jobs statewide, according to the governor’s staff.
As the name suggests, Dakota Roots is designed to lure people who perhaps grew up in South Dakota and had moved away, or went to college there, or had parents or grandparents from the state.
As a native South Dakotan living in the Twin Cities, I’ve been giving your pitch some thought. There’s a lot of what you are selling that is attractive to me. I have treasured family and friends in South Dakota. I miss the expansive prairie skies framing breathtakingly beautiful fields of sunflowers or bison. I love many of the changes that have happened since I left Sioux Falls about 30 years ago, such as the Washington Pavillion, Parker’s Bistro, Josiah’s Coffee, Spezia, Zanbroz and the rejuvenated Falls Park. I admire the populist spirit of South Dakotans, and the pride they have in a place and culture that too few Americans have taken the time to understand and appreciate.
To the extent that you are selling those things, I’m buying it. You’ve got a fabulous product.
But I’m not interested in buying some of what you are so aggressively selling – low taxes and subsequently poor services. Take, for instance, the issue of publicly subsidized health insurance coverage. I don’ want to live in communities where my uninsured friends, neighbors and family members are living their lives just one runaway blood clot, car accident or metastasized cell away from instant financial and personal ruin. That’s not the kind of community that is attractive to me.
Minnesota’s uninsured rate is shamefully high (about 9%), but it is significantly lower than South Dakota’s (13%). Worse yet, you are refusing federal help to cover 48,564 of South Dakota’s most vulnerable citizens, while Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is expanding coverage to more than 35,000 of its citizens. You are taking South Dakota in the wrong direction, and that is not a selling point to Minnesotans.
Then there is education. One of the reasons I’ve stayed in Minnesota is the historic commitment Minnesota leaders have made to education. While Minnesota’s education system is far from perfect, Minnesota leaders are at least modestly investing to draw and keep the best teachers. Minnesota ranks 23rd nationally in teacher pay, compared to 41st for South Dakota. (By the way, these rankings are adjusted to account for differences in cost-of-living, so that’s not a valid reason to explain away these rankings.) Moreover, this year Minnesota leaders increased investments in education by $485 million over current levels, and are investing $45 million in pre-kindergarten scholarships to help low-income kids get prepared for school. Minnesota’s investments in education make it very difficult for me to move to a state that is underinvesting in its education system.
Because of these kinds of public investments, I pay higher taxes than I would in South Dakota. I am fully aware that I could move to South Dakota to cut my tax bill. But I understand that you get what you pay for in life, so I’m willing to join with my neighbors to invest what it takes to build a healthy, fair and well-educated state for my kids and grandkids.
It may be tempting for you to write me off as a loony liberal aberration. I am a loony liberal, but in Minnesota, I’m no aberration. Research shows that the majority of the Minnesotans you seek to lure to South Dakota support investing in strong community services for our most vulnerable neighbors. For instance, a survey recently found that only 8% of Minnesotans support making state budget cuts in health care for low-income, disabled and elderly Minnesotans a high priority. So, your refusal to cover 48,564 more South Dakotans doesn’t sell very well with more than 90% of Minnesotans.
In addition, research shows that a majority of Minnesotans support requiring wealthy citizens to pay more in income taxes. So, your insistence on maintaining one of the most millionaire-friendly regressive tax systems in the nation is also not a selling point in Minnesota.
Any good salesperson knows that the first thing you need to do to be successful is to understand your target market, and make sure the product is designed with those consumers’ preferences in mind. So I wanted to share these data to show you that your ultra-conservative low tax/poor services appeal is a turn off, not a selling point. Start investing more in education and health care, and start requiring wealthy people to pay their fair share in taxes. Then maybe we can talk.