An interesting (and telling) lede to an article about “Tax Freedom Day” by Minnesota 2020 fellow Jeff Van Wychen.

“It’s April 15, tax filing deadline day. With the certainty that the sun will rise, right wing tax and public policy voices will bemoan doing their part to help pay for public goods like roads, schools, and police.”

What’s interesting is that when progressive folks like those at Minnesota 2020 want to create the impression that high taxes are a good thing, they cite legitimate and constitutional functions of government like roads and schools (both state obligations defined by the Minnesota constitution) and police, public safety being the utmost responsibility of government. But when it comes to spending tax dollars, progressive politicians shortchange the legitimate and essential for non-essential pet partisan projects.

The “public works” spirit gives us a bonding bill that disrespects the public good of roads for public transit that directly benefits but a few, who don’t pay near the cost of their benefit. We get education spending on “schools” that is funneled to a failing system intended to preserve the status quo instead of providing funding directly to families so that they, not the state, might direct the education of their children. Instead of police (and an underfunded court system), we get bike trails, gorilla houses and hockey arenas.

In pursuit of progressivism and to create the impression that Minnesota taxes aren’t really that high, Minnesota 2020 relegates the truth to irrelevancy. The problem is not that the 2020 folks keep getting it wrong; the problem is they never try to get it right.

One can play all day with statistics that place Minnesota in various relative positions to other states vis a vis taxes (and both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of that), but at the end of the day the tax standing of Minnesota or the relativity of the after-tax income of Minnesotans has not one iota of relevance to whether building zoo exhibits of local importance or light rail for special interests is a legitimate function of state government. Such comparisons do not abrogate the necessity for firm criteria that guide state spending (and by extension the need for taxation).

Of course objective spending criteria are the last things progressive Minnesota 2020 wants. Objective spending criteria implies there is an objective limit to how much the state SHOULD spend to meet its legitimate and constitutional obligations – a situation counter to the open-ended progressive spending question: How much CAN the state spend?

Perhaps if Minnesota 2020 put more thought into defending its spending based on principle and spending criteria instead of tortured yet nonetheless irrelevant statistics, they might still get it wrong, but at least we’d know that they were trying to get it right.