Editorial cartoon  (2/3/2016)

Aside from football, where both our professional and collegiate teams have done quite well, thank you, against their counterparts from Minnesota, we've been eating a lot of dust coming across the state line the past few years.

It wasn't all that long ago that Wisconsin and Minnesota were considered "twins" on just about every economic and demographic measure, two states that were molded by strong civic-minded Scandinavian and German immigrants and governed by a long line of progressive leaders, both Democrats and Republicans.

Back in the day Hubert Humphrey was considered Wisconsin's "third" U.S. senator, while Minnesotans said the same of our own Gaylord Nelson.

As anyone who's paying attention can attest, it's a whole lot different today. While the two states started to diverge years ago, the past five years have been particularly stark, coinciding with Wisconsin's decision to make a right-wing, anti-union career politician its governor at the same time Minnesotans turned to a farm-labor progressive.

Wisconsin state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, a Democrat from Alma, a little city across the Mississippi from Minnesota, released a side-by-side comparison of the two states last week. It included tidbits like Minnesota's average wage of $50,711 to Wisconsin's $44,471 or the state debt averaging $2,513 per person in Minnesota compared to $4,044 in Wisconsin.

Minnesota's state domestic production has now reached $315.2 billion to Wisconsin's $292.8 billion. Science professionals in the Gopher State average $68,530 in salary to $58,710 in the Badger State and more than 34 percent of all people over 25 have college degrees in Minnesota compared to 28.4 percent here. And while the number of new businesses created per year averages roughly 6,000 in Wisconsin, Minnesota has been averaging 8,000.

It's clear the two states are on different paths. We lowered taxes on the wealthy, Minnesota increased them. We significantly reduced state aid to public education, Minnesota increased it. We have a budget surplus of less than $100 million in 2015, Minnesota has a surplus of nearly $2 billion.

But Scott Walker and his Republican majority in the state Legislature don't see any need to change their chosen path. That became obvious last month when the governor outlined his plan to help Wisconsin college students lower their student loan debt.

While Minnesota's Gov. Mark Dayton was announcing plans to allow Minnesota students to refinance their student loans just as millions of Americans refinance their homes and cars to take advantage of better interest rates, Wisconsin Gov. Walker didn't see any need to do likewise for Wisconsin's young people.

Here in Wisconsin, apparently, we don't want to upset the banks, especially since they deliver such nice campaign contributions to mostly Republican candidates.

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Walker ignored the Democrats' call to allow refinancing, and opted instead to remove the cap on the tax deduction students can take on their student loan interest and to provide "emergency grants" for college students who have unexpected expenses. Plus he would spend $700,000 to hire internship coordinators to connect students with local businesses and would require schools to send students information about how much money they're borrowing and at what costs.

As Scot Ross, director of One Wisconsin Now, pointed out, not one student loan borrower in Wisconsin will see their monthly payments reduced by one cent under the Wisconsin governor's proposal.

But this is just another in a string of penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions that Walker and this new brand of Republicans have made in recent years.

Instead of getting money into the hands of ordinary citizens so they can afford houses and cars and help bolster the economy — exactly what's been done in Minnesota — Walker's philosophy is to let the big boys keep it. As a result, Wisconsin, once a guiding light among the states, has become one of the country's laggards. 

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

Dave is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.