As the Minnesota State House and Senate continue to discuss the best way to address the state’s budget deficit, Minnesota’s Catholic bishops are urging state leaders to pass a budget that "uphold[s] the inviolable human dignity, value and worth of every Minnesotan, and reflect[s] a commitment to the common good."
The collective welfare of humanity is central to the Catholic faith tradition and Church’s social teachings, and the Bishops are urging state leaders to ensure that the state has enough revenue to meet the basic needs of all Minnesotans, but particularly the poor.
Minnesota’s budget is a moral document that sets the priorities for our state. It reflects not only the values and goals of Minnesota, but determines whether all Minnesotans can meet their basic needs. We are especially called to place the needs of those living in poverty at the center of economic concerns. “Like family life, economic life is one of the chief areas where we live out our faith, love our neighbor, confront temptation, fulfill God’s creative design, and achieve our holiness” (Economic Justice for All: A Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, 6).
We believe that resolving the budget deficit through spending cuts alone will do great harm to Minnesotans and our economy. We urge you to support raising sufficient revenue as part of a comprehensive approach to resolving Minnesota’s budget shortfall. Catholic social teaching upholds the role of government to assist individuals and communities when they cannot help themselves. In performing this role, the state is fulfilling its moral responsibility to promote the common good.
We hear a lot about tax fairness, but we very rarely the moral argument for taxes. Professor Vida Scudder, a social gospel theologian in the early 20th century, was one of the first to make the moral argument for a progressive tax benefiting social programs, insisting it was "spiritual suicide for the possessors of privileges to rest until such privileges become the common lot."
The hour has come for Christian thought to give definite sanction to the new social ethic that has been developing for the last half century. The check by common will on private greed, the care for public health, the protection of childhood and manhood, the securing of fair leisure from the monotonies of modern labor, form a program hardly to be called radical any longer.
[Income tax] does not attack private property, but merely limits it at a point far above what most people reach, and no Christian mind would surely stoop to the meanness of claiming that it would unduly lessen incentive. It would deliver many men from fearful temptations,–a result for which we are told to pray.
Unfortunately, Minnesota’s tax system is at it’s regressive worst and the rich aren’t paying their fair share. Governor Pawlenty’s budget proposals place the budget’s burden on those families that are struggling to make ends meet rather than ask those who can afford to pay more to share the pain.
"Economic decisions have human consequences," write the Bishops. "As faithful citizens, we must carefully examine Minnesota’s budget. Do the spending and revenue raising provisions of Minnesota’s budget reflect justice? Do they promote the common good?"
Well, let’s take a look. The Minnesota Budget Project has just realized their analysis of the Consequences of the Governor’s Budget Proposal.
Here are just a few of the of the very "human consequences" of the Governor’s budget proposal:
-3,000 to 4,500 Minnesotan families would be unable to access legal services due to cuts in funding for civil legal services. These services help families with issues such as abuse, violence, neglect, homelessness or other major challenges.
-An estimated 1,200 fewer housing assistance rental units and 500 fewer owner-occupied units would be constructed because the Governor would reduce funding for a program that funds grants and low-cost loans for the development of affordable housing opportunities.
-More than 26,000 Minnesota children would no longer have access to public health care because the Governor would repeal a critical outreach program, cancel a scheduled reduction in premiums and repeal a policy that transitions children seamlessly from one low-income health care program to another as family income increases.
-More than 60,000 Minnesotans without children would no longer have access to public health insurance.
These are real cuts affecting real people and the Governor’s proposal balances the budget on the backs of those with the least.
It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, and it isn’t just.
Ensuring our long-term economic prosperity will require shared sacrifice and shared responsibility, and it’s time for the rich to start paying their fair share.
Now is the time to call your state legislators and tell them to support raising revenue by making our tax system fair.
If you need a little more encouragement, Scudder wrote that a progressive tax system was an expression of Christian love:
This truth is what the Church should hold relentlessly before men’s eyes; it is what makes indifference to social readjustments impossible to her shepherding love.
Look up your state legislators and urge them to support a fair tax system, not Gov. Pawlenty’s proposals to cut the ground out from beneath families struggling in this economy.