Minnesota needs to solve its current state budget crisis justly by asking those with higher incomes to pay more in taxes to prevent the poor — already hit hard by the economic downturn — from having to bear more of the burden, said Father David McCauley, interim executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
The organization represents the state’s Catholic bishops on public policy matters.
“As a nation and a state, we face incredible budget deficits,” Father McCauley said, during his keynote address at the Feb. 17 Day on the Hill gathering organized by the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition at St. Paul RiverCentre.
“It is the role of government to responsibly respond to the deficits,” he added. “It seems our choice is to raise revenue or fail in justice — in meeting the needs of the common good. Yes, those who are able are called on to share more fully so those who lack are not denied justice.”
Commenting later, Father McCauley said he supports Gov. Mark Dayton’s decision to “bite the bullet” and propose tax increases for top earners.
“He’s putting the greater burden on those who can most afford it, himself included, and a lesser one on people in the upper middle class, not on the poor,” he said.
Group acts on faith
The JRLC is a Minnesota-based non-partisan interfaith public policy organization whose membership includes Catholics, Christians of other denominations, Jews and Muslims. At this year’s Day on the Hill, 850 participants were briefed on social justice issues and then visited legislators at the state Capitol.
Beside supporting Dayton’s tax increase proposal, the MCC is concerned about proposed cuts to nursing home funding, the workforce and affordable housing, said Katie Conlin, MCC interim social concerns director.
Following announcement of an improved state budget forecast Feb. 28, Dayton released a revised budget that does not include cuts to emergency assistance for adults or to community action agencies.
Among the cuts proposed by the Legislature, which Dayton later rejected, the MCC was especially concerned about reductions in child protection and child support payment enforcement, and emergency assistance grants, she said. It’s too early to know if those cuts will be back on the table as the Legislature prepares a complete budget, Conlin added.
While some sectors of the economy have shown recovery since the 2008 downturn, unemployment, the use of homeless shelters or food shelves and mortgage foreclosures have not, Father McCauley said. That, coupled with real estate taxes, assessments and service reductions has affected the poor. The state and country’s tax systems aren’t as progressive as they once were, he said.
Who is our neighbor?
For some, government has become an enemy.
“We have lost the realization that our individual well-being is tied to the well-being of our neighbors,” he said. “Through our government, we build roads and hire teachers; we employ police and firefighters to keep us safe and establish courts to maintain order, we protect our land and build parks; we must also care for the poor, the powerless, and empower them.”
Sue Kainz of St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park said the annual Day on the Hill offers people of faith an opportunity to remind legislators of the needs of the less fortunate as they make legislative decisions.
Kainz, who has attended the event for 13 years, is Minnesota FoodShare’s March campaign coordinator. “Those people don’t have a voice,” she said. “We have to continue to be that voice.”
Our freedom as Americans comes with responsibility, Father McCauley said.
“Too often, in reflecting on freedom, we look only to a freedom from unjust aggressors, freedom from illness, freedom from exploitation — and, too seldom, the freedom to work together to overcome natural disasters, to defeat threats to our security, to end injustice — and, let’s be very pragmatic to deal with budget deficits.”
CSJ’s justice coordinator honored for her work
Joänne Tromiczak-Neid, coordinator of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Justice Office, was presented the Lawrence D. Gibson Social Justice Award Feb. 17 by the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition during its annual Day on the Hill.
Tromiczak-Neid has served as justice coordinator for the Sisters of St. Joseph and Consociates since 1992. During that time, her work of advocating for the common good has been recognized on local, state and national levels.
Tromiczak-Neid has focused on coordinating CSJ-affiliated groups to meet the needs of the times through education, advocacy and action.
“One of Joänne’s great gifts is her ability to bring people of diverse backgrounds together and to enable dialogue among them,” said St. Joseph Sister Susan Oeffling. “She also has wonderful networking skills and has built partnerships with so many groups outside our CSJ community, which has strengthened our work in social justice.”