The report card assigned letter grades in several categories and - in contrast to Minnesotans relentless ability to pat themselves on the back - gave the Twin Cities an overall GPA of a B-. While we achieved high marks for "Unique Character and Social Blend" (credit Mandingo with that one), "Values Good Health For All," "Can Attract Talent From Other Areas," "Am Concentrated With Skilled Workers," and "Support the Arts," there were some notable areas of slippage where the Twin Cities specifically and Minnesotans generally should take heed. We earned a grade of D in the categories "Adequately Support Regional Infrastructure," and "Work and Play Well with Others." Furthermore, we earned a C- in the categories "Have Resources to Reach Commerical Potential," "Provide a Foundation for Future Growth," and "Resource Flow." All told, the lower grades stand out more - and are far more telling of the challenges facing the Twin Cities - than the higher grades.
So what? The Twin Cities still tops the quality-of-life lists. We have a highly educated workforce of high-income earners. Our children's ACT scores are among the highest in the country, and we graduate a boatload of B.A. and B.S. students every year from our quality public and private universities and colleges. We have a huge arts network, a huge nonprofit network, and an active business community. Why mess with a good thing?
The problem is, we're not taking steps to secure our position at the tops of these lists and statistics. Other similar metropolitan areas - Denver, Phoenix, Raleigh - are taking cues from our past and beating us at our own game, and they have an inherent advantage in attracting residents: weather (or mountains, in the case of Denver).
Our current political environment - lead most notably by Teflon Tim Pawlenty - does not lend itself to accomplishing great things in the name of civic improvement. As evidenced time and time again, Pawlenty would much rather offer David Strom and the Taxpayer's League a couple dimes off taxes when they repatriate their off-shore accounts than worry about calling on Minnesotan to make a joint sacrifice for everyone's benefit. It used to be - or so legend has it - that Minnesota was a place where Democrats and Republicans could get along in the name of basic civic foundations (i.e. Arne Carlson). The current crop of Republicans, however, poisoned that environment a couple years ago, and will probably pay a poltical price next year.
The Twin Cities metropolitan area is widely predicted to add more than 1 million residents in the next 20 years. This is a fact stated over and over again by experts, but a fact you will rarely heard uttered from a Minnesota Republican's lips. Why? Because to admit that we will be adding these people is to admit that we need to be planning for the future, not merely spending on the present.
Therefore, I offer you a Pie-Eyed Five-Point Plan for the Betterment of the Twin Cities. Take umbrage if you will, but if you will, at least provide your own suggestions for improvement. There's nothing worse than a critic who only criticizes and does not provide his own thoughts.
- Put together a comprehensive transportation infrastructure package that covers the entire metropolitan area, and includes Minnesota's other major cities. This will be our biggest challenge: Getting everyone together at the table and figuring out the best way to move people around. It will take a combination of public transportation options and highway infrastructure in order to make this work. It will also take a metro-wide sales tax in order to pay for it.
- Fully fund education at all levels. Fun Bobby Bruininks at the U of M wants to be one of the top three research institutions in the world. Rather than laugh him off the stage, we should be encouraging him. Reduce the drastic income gap in education by ensuring our urban school districts receive the support they need, and push math and science to provide future employees for our biotech firms. Do what it takes to make this happen, rather than cutting corners or freezing spending.
- Utilize smart growth in order to better develop our communities, conserve land usage, reduce pollution, and ease transportation difficulties. There is no reason Maple Grove and Andover should look and feel the way they do. It's purely bad design. We need to mix our residential and commercial land use and place them close to transportation hubs. Why must we always rely on our cars? It's unnecessary.
- What's the deal with biofuel? Minnesota and its neighbors to the south and west (Iowa and the Dakotas) ought to be working together in order to make this region the energy capitol of the US. We're honestly sitting on a gold mine of untapped energy resources in our corn and soybean industries. If we work jointly, we can make more waves nationally, and pretty soon we can provide fuel and energy to the whole country. We need both public and private investment in research and implementation.
- Finally, we need to bolster partnerships in the private and public spheres. We need to attract businesses here, and help them invest in the growth of Minnesota. Pawlenty has said that he won't raise taxes because it'll scare away businesses. I say, get the money to build the infrastructure that produces the employees companies want.