Minnesotans are fond of reflecting on our state's past, and for good reason. There is much to be proud of.

Minnesota was the first state to offer troops to President Abraham Lincoln at the outset of the Civil War.

Native son Hubert Humphrey was a courageous and influential leader in the civil rights movement of the last century.

An astounding number of businesses blossomed up here into international corporate giants in decades past.

In these trying times, Minnesota nostalgia can be comforting.

But it can also be dangerously distracting. The hard truth is that, today, Minnesota is in decline. We need to stop focusing on our past, acknowledge the deficient direction of the present and make bold change for a brighter future.

Many Minnesotans seem to believe that economic prosperity is an inevitability here. The data suggest otherwise. While Florida and Texas watch their populations balloon and their economies flourish, Minnesota last year lost an alarming 13,453 residents to other states, the most in more than 30 years. We also have 2.8% fewer people employed than before the pandemic.

And while a staggering number of Fortune 500 companies were started here in the last century, in this one the number newly incorporated here is ... none.

The Twin Cities metro area, a critical component of the state's economic engine, is experiencing rapid, devastating decay thanks to a historic spike in violent crime that has infested its downtowns and neighborhoods.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have become dangerous and unappealing places to visit, live and do business. This is not just an unacceptable situation for those of us who live in the urban core, but for every Minnesotan who should be able to enjoy the statewide economic benefits and amenities a thriving, prosperous and safe Twin Cities can provide.

A turnaround begins with new leadership. We need public officials who will communicate candidly with constituents, govern competently, renew our expectations for excellence and advance an agenda of action.

Gov. Tim Walz is too comfortable with mediocrity. He seems resigned to the continuation of the dismal status quo. On the existential crisis of crime, the governor is all but silent, messaging us: Get used to it. His administration lacks energy, creative ideas and relies too heavily on government spending, the state's legacy and tired public sector solutions.

When an enterprise is failing, it usually hires a new chief executive. Minnesota should do the same.

We must also demand that our prosecutors and judges lock up the criminals terrorizing Minnesota families and destroying our communities. The negligent leniency shown to treacherous lawbreakers here by our cowardly criminal justice system has created a dangerous haven of criminality.

The crime issue has been overcomplicated by woke politicians, who argue that somehow more social workers, more government programs and more "understanding" will lead to safer streets. No, the root cause of crime is simple: criminals. And criminals only alter their behavior when they fear incarceration, which in Minnesota today they do not.

Our region will be safe again only when we throw the book at violent offenders again.

Minnesota is a special state, but not so special that it can afford to remain so glaringly uncompetitive. Residents here currently face the sixth-highest tax burden in the country and our employers must bear a state corporate income tax rate of the same notable national rank. It's no wonder the nonpartisan Tax Foundation ranks Minnesota a pathetic 45th when it comes to kindly state tax climates. Minnesota taxes are not so nice.

If we make Minnesota competitive, we will once again be attractive to new business, corporate relocations and entrepreneurs. That means a more robust job market and better career and investment opportunities for all of us, not to mention more sources of state and municipal tax revenue.

Reducing our tax burden should not be difficult. Minnesota taxes too much because it spends too much, particularly on entitlements, which constitute a whopping 30% of general fund appropriations. According to the Center of the American Experiment, Minnesota's state government in 2018 spent around $30,400 in public welfare for each person in poverty. This compares to a national average of about $17,100, ranking Minnesota third nationally in terms of welfare spending.

While we are a compassionate people and should provide a safety net for those falling on hard times, entitlements need to be more limited and temporary — both for the benefit of the taxpayer and the independence and dignity of the recipient.

While Minnesota's best days are not upon us, they can be. Our state has one of the most talented and well-educated workforces in the country. Minnesotans are generous, hardworking and innovative. Our natural resources are beyond compare, and we have sound corporate, nonprofit and civic infrastructures to work with.

Minnesota's promise is great. But, as a wise man once told me, nothing changes if nothing changes. This new year is the time to arrest Minnesota's decline and start our state on a new and better course.

Andy Brehm, of St. Paul, is a corporate lawyer.