Same data can result in different conclusions — especially during session

ST. PAUL -- Think tanks from opposite ends of the political spectrum examined the same data about Minnesotans leaving the state and came to different conclusions.Not a surprise. Not news. Not unusual.But it is illustrative of what happens in stat...

Peter Nelson tells reporters Thursday that a report he authored shows wealthy Minnesotans left the state because of a new tax placed on them. (Don Davis/Forum News Service)

ST. PAUL - Think tanks from opposite ends of the political spectrum examined the same data about Minnesotans leaving the state and came to different conclusions.
Not a surprise. Not news. Not unusual.
But it is illustrative of what happens in state government, especially when legislators are in session.
The Center of the American Experiment released a report Thursday, gathered from Internal Revenue Service data, that the conservative group said proved Minnesota lost nearly $1 billion in residents’ income because Democrats raised taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans.
“This unprecedented loss in income demonstrates Minnesota is becoming a less attractive place to live and work,” said Peter Nelson, author of the report and senior American Experiment policy fellow. “The implications for Minnesota tax policy are clear: Lowering taxes will help Minnesota retain and attract workers.”
Nelson said that worse than driving rich Minnesotans out of the state, the tax Democrat Mark Dayton pushed is keeping people out. He said that would-be Minnesotans look at the state tax policy and go elsewhere.
Nelson said that his organization only used IRS data to draw the conclusion; it did not interview any people leaving Minnesota or those who opted not to come because of high taxes.
The liberal Minnesota Budget Project looked at the same data as Nelson and, not surprisingly, came to a different conclusion.
“When someone moves out of Minnesota and into another state, the income they earned in Minnesota doesn’t necessarily go with them; it often stays here,” the project reported.
For instance, if a doctor leaves Minnesota, said Michael Mazerov of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, his patients and their payments for his services will go to another Minnesota doctor.
The budget project suggests that taxes play much less of a role in people leaving the state than job opportunities, housing costs and being close to family.
The issue about what reports to believe come after a dispute between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican lawmakers.
Dayton uses reports like the one from the budget project to prove that higher taxes on the rich produce money the state needs, with no serious downside. Republicans pick up on reports like those from the American Experiment to show the danger of higher taxes.

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