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Rod Watson: Maybe there’s a good reason Cuomo wants to seem ‘progressive’

As Andrew Cuomo, Cynthia Nixon and Marc Molinaro argue over who’s a real progressive, who’s a faux progressive and who’s a conservative, a new study indicates it’s more than just a campaign debate.

The answer could shape the state’s economic destiny.

The study from the Economic Policy Institute compared the economic performances of Wisconsin and Minnesota since 2010 to determine which state yielded the best results for working people.

The neighboring states were chosen not only because of their proximity, but also because they are similar in terms of demographics, population and industries. That makes comparing their performance since the recession "a useful natural experiment for assessing how state policy is affecting economic outcomes and residents’ welfare," according to the study by EPI senior economic analyst David Cooper.

Where the two states differ is in terms of policy after each elected their governor in 2010.

Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker has been a cauldron of conservatism, cutting taxes primarily for corporations and the wealthy, shrinking government and divesting in public programs, neutering unions and rejecting the Medicaid expansion allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

Minnesota under Gov. Mark Dayton took the opposite tack, raising its minimum wage and indexing it to inflation, increasing taxes on the wealthy and investing in infrastructure, education, aid to poor families and expanding Medicaid.

Or as Cooper put it, Minnesota’s reforms were "unambiguously progressive – directing resources toward low- and moderate-income households" and strengthening their bargaining power, while Wisconsin’s were "unambiguously regressive," transferring resources "from low- and moderate-income residents to richer ones" and weakening rules that helped the poor and middle class.

The results? Among the study’s findings:

• Non-farm job growth was 11 percent in Minnesota, compared to 7.9 percent in Wisconsin. Minnesota’s job growth also outpaced Wisconsin’s in the private sector and in high-wage industries.

• Ditto for wage growth across the board, with low-wage workers in Minnesota seeing "much stronger growth" than in Wisconsin.

• Median household income grew by 7.2 percent in Minnesota from 2010 to 2016, compared to 5.1 percent in Wisconsin.

• And while Wisconsin’s 5.9 percentage point decline in union membership from 2010 to 2017 was the largest of any state, union membership in Minnesota fell only 0.4 points, far less than the national decline of 1.2 percentage points.

Cooper’s conclusion?

"The results could not be more clear: By virtually every available measure, Minnesota’s recovery has outperformed Wisconsin’s," he found.

Despite the obligatory caveats about others factors at play, the study should be a prism through which New Yorkers view the gubernatorial wannabes.

Maybe that’s why Cuomo, the Democratic governor, is suddenly touting his progressive bona fides – a $15 minimum wage, infrastructure work, etc. – after years of playing footsie with the Republican State Senate.

At the same time, the siren song of tax cuts – sung by Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive – sounds very Walker-like as he carries the GOP banner. But in also deriding "corporate welfare," he subtly reminds voters that Cuomo’s $750 million gamble on the RiverBend solar project could look like very unprogressive "trickle down" if it doesn’t pay off in the promised jobs – regardless of how the Buffalo Billion corruption trial turns out.

Meanwhile, Nixon – the former actress and longtime education advocate who will run in the Democratic primary – keeps dragging Cuomo even more toward Wisconsin, which the data shows is not a bad place to be if you want your state to make economic progress.

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