By Phil Krinkie President of Taxpayers League of Minnesota
Today there is more than the St. Croix River that divides Minnesota from Wisconsin. Over the past two years, there has been a growing political divide.
While Minnesota's Governor Mark Dayton and Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker may have the same overarching objectives of creating jobs and improving the economy; their solutions for achieving these goals is as different as day and night.
As a backdrop to this contrast in political styles it is helpful to remember that both Dayton and Walker replaced governors of the opposite party. Dayton replaced two-term Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Walker took the seat of Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle.
Both Dayton and Walker survived their early challenges and solidified their leadership positions.
Despite the broad differences in the current political landscape, there are a large number of similarities in demographics and economics of the two states.
But these look-alike demographics and economics have not lead to similar politics. Since 2011, Wisconsin has had a Republican Governor and a Republican controlled House and Senate.
On this side of the border, the Democrats gained control of both legislative chambers in last fall's elections giving the DFL control of all three branches of state government for the first time in over 20 years.
Ever since the election of these two governors in 2010, Minnesota has been getting bluer and Wisconsin is becoming redder. The one exception would be that President Obama won re-election in both states by similar margins in November of 2012.
As the political divide has widened between the states, so has the public policy direction. Two key examples are the hotly debated issues of requiring picture identification to vote and gay marriage.
But this year's respective legislative sessions prove there is a widening policy gap between the two states.
On the health care front, Minnesota adopted an Obama Care blue print for a Health Care Exchange and expanded health care coverage for low-income adults.
Across the border, Wisconsin refused to set up a Health Care Exchange and did not implement the federal Medicaid expansion rules.
In the education arena, Wisconsin this year chose to expand vouchers for K - 12 students statewide, sending more public aid to private schools.
In Minnesota Democrats increased funding to K - 12 schools by $700 million including the addition of free all-day kindergarten.
But the biggest difference in public policy comes on the tax front.
In Minnesota, Gov. Dayton and the Democrats pushed through a $2.1 billion tax increase, which included an income tax rate increase of 25 percent on incomes over $150,000. They also included a whopping $1.60 per pack increase on cigarettes and an expansion of numerous sales taxes.
In addition, the legislature gave all counties the option to increase local sales taxes and impose a wheelage tax for roads.
By contrast, Gov. Walker and the Republican controlled legislature in Wisconsin passed a tax cut. The almost $700 million tax cut bill reduced the number of income tax brackets from five to four with more than 50 percent of the tax cut going to those earning more than $100,000 a year.
As the public policy divide between the two states continues to grow, no one knows what the response from the voters will be to the actions of their legislators and the governors.
But with both Gov. Dayton and Gov. Walker facing re-election in 2014 there are bound to be more hits than in a Packer-Vikings game.
The question is, will we return a divided government or will we continue on the path of political polarization?
Stay tuned for the continuing economic and political drama of red state vs. blue state or Minnesota vs. Wisconsin.