"The purpose of state government is to set the table for the prosperity of the next generation."

A wise legislator shared that maxim with me a quarter-century ago. It lodged firmly in memory, trotted out for application to arguments about everything from early childhood education to professional sports palaces. (We can't have too many of those!)

The "prosperity of the next generation" line has been rolling in my head again, ever since MMB officials announced that state government is rolling in a whopping $17.6 billion in excess dough.

What would it mean to use that money in ways that set the table for future prosperity? It strikes me that lawmakers might arrive at better answers if they had a shared notion of the likely wellspring of the state's future well-being.

I use the word "well-being" advisedly. A group of about 75 civic-minded volunteers have huddled several times this year to consider whether human well-being could and should become a defining economic brand for Minnesota, and what would be required to make that happen.

Their effort is dubbed Global Wellness Connections. They've formed a nonprofit, nonpartisan collective whose work is worthy of attention at the State Capitol.

If it sounds a bit like the push that's underway to bring a World Expo extravaganza to Minnesota in 2027, that's no coincidence. The two efforts involve some of the same people and are animated by the same sense of possibilities.

But the Global Wellness folks want something bigger and more enduring than a giant fair. They want Minnesota and its neighboring states to be as well-known for well-being in the 21st century as this state once was for flour and iron ore.

"We can make this the identifier of our region," said University of Minnesota architecture Prof. Thomas Fisher, director of the Minnesota Design Center and a fan of the Global Wellness project.

Consider, Fisher said, the various components of wellness and well-being that Minnesota already boasts: The nation's fourth-longest life expectancy. High rates of health insurance coverage and health care performance. A robust medical device industry. The Mayo Clinic. A healthful environment and outdoor-loving lifestyle.

"But all of that has never been systematically presented in a wholistic way, or marketed that way," Fisher said. "What's the compelling reason to move to Minnesota, start a business here, go to school here, have a life here? Wellness can be that reason … but we've got to show that we can put our money where our mouth is."

How could the state's big surplus — much of it one-time money — be used to advance this cause? Fisher and another Global Wellness player, Edina Mayor Jim Hovland, had several ideas:

  • The creation of an R&D investment fund that would encourage the development of products and enterprises broadly related to human health.
  • A feasibility study of something long contemplated — a high-speed link between Rochester and Minneapolis. The Global Wellness people have been talking to would-be developers of a vacuum-tube hyperloop, which Hovland says could put the Mayo Clinic 12 minutes away from the U campus.
  • Jump-start water cleanup projects around the state, targeting assistance to locales with aging water infrastructure and too little tax capacity to finance upgrades on their own.

I'd put those shiny new things on a "worth exploring" list. But I'd also argue that state government should use its largesse to do better by some tried-and-true contributors to Minnesota well-being.

Shouldn't the Wellness State have universal, high-quality early childhood education and sufficient workforce housing? How about adequately staffed hospitals and nursing homes? And an aggressive strategy to cut carbon emissions? Assurance of safety, justice and equal opportunity for all, of all races and places of origin?

Here's one that's fundamental: Doesn't the Wellness State need a top-rated university medical school with a major research-and-teaching hospital under Minnesota control?

"This is a marvelous time for us to be thinking about our opportunities and our strengths. We can get out in front and prove some of the latest concepts on healthy nutrition, clean water, medical devices and so much more," said Hovland, who has the perspective of 18 years as Edina's mayor and leadership in the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

He hopes his fellow DFLer in the governor's office agrees.

Gov. Tim Walz got swamped by COVID and the murder of George Floyd in his first term. But that run of bad luck has given way to the biggest opportunity to invest in this state's future that any modern-era governor has had. With extra billions on hand, Walz "can really think about how we can lead," Hovland said.

In honor of the season, I'll stick with my hospitality metaphor: If Walz and the 2023 Legislature set the table well, they'll provide Minnesota's next generation with a feast.

Lori Sturdevant is a retired Star Tribune editorial writer. She is at lsturdevant@startribune.com.