State government shutdown: A wake-up call to mend our civic culture

| Tim Marx | July 7, 2011 | 3 Comments

Now that our elected leaders have collided in a game of “chicken” and significant portions of state government are idled, a pall has been cast over Minnesota.

Although there was a shutdown in 2005, it was a “shutdown light”  and solved quickly. This one will likely go longer and is more serious: More services and functions are suspended, and the divisiveness and vitriol are deeper and louder.

The combination of the court order on “essential services” and temporary “stop gap” funding from counties and other sources allows Catho­lic Charities to avoid immediate disruptions in services to our clients. Other nonprofits are confronting more difficult challenges. A resolution is needed soon to avoid major consequences.

Protecting the poor

Catholic Charities has been one of the many voices that have advocated for a state budget that protects the poor and vulnerable by maintaining adequate funding for basic needs such as housing and health care, as well as continuing to fund items that are necessary to maintain jobs and self-sufficiency such as child care and transit.

With poverty and homelessness increasing as a result of the Great Recession, it is morally wrong, fiscally short-sighted and economically counterproductive to cut services that put the poor at greater risk and limit their opportunities for productive lives.

As the negative impact of the budget adopted by the Legislature became clear, Catholic Charities also advocated for more revenue as part of a final resolution that would also include reduced spending and long-term reforms.

Our advocacy on these matters will continue until there is a budget in place, and we ask for the continued support of the Catholic community.

Lessons from history

But there are larger issues at stake. Our civic culture and elected leaders are accepting the consequences  of a government shutdown — jobs lost, lives disrupted, resources wasted, and our state’s reputation tarnished — rather than adopting reasonable compromises.

History is replete with examples of decision-makers stubbornly sticking to positions in spite of evidence that doing so would be contrary to the interests they were trying to protect, and notwithstanding better alternatives that were widely discussed.

Barbara Tuchman, the renowned historian, chronicled several such incidents — allowing the Trojan Horse into Troy, the Protestant Reformation, the British Loss of North America, and America’s humiliation in Vietnam — in her 1984 book “March of Folly.” In these examples, stubbornness persisted and the predicted negative consequences were the result.

The consequences of the state shutdown do not, for now, rise to the level of those chronicled in “March of Folly.” But the common good will feel the impact, and the common good will be served if we learn from this history so as to not repeat it.

Seeing the bigger picture

A responsible resolution to the state budget will require the Legislature and the governor to adopt a broader and longer-term view of what they seek to accomplish.

Can the broader goals of fiscal responsibility and economic vitality be advanced with some new state taxes?

Are there ways to raise revenue, maintain needed services and enhance tax fairness without relying solely on income taxes on the wealthy?

And what about the rest of the citizens of this state? Are we willing to interpret the promises made in the heat of campaigns in the broader context of the responsibility of our leaders to govern and promote the general welfare?

I am confident this is possible, and I am certain it is necessary if the future of our state is to be as bright as its past.

Tim Marx is chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Category: Faith in the Public Arena, Spotlight

  • Anonymous

    The Conservative Majority Legislature offered to Gov.Dayton the largest budget in state history.He rejected it. He wants more.While shedding crocodile tears for the poor he proposes a $600,000,000 gift of taxpayer money to secure a stadium for the Vikings. He would have us equate success with selfishness.He wants to continue failing Sex-Ed programs,fetal stem cell research, and funding for Planned parenthood. He opposes school vouchers and would impose on students a pro-homosexual,radical environmental pseudo- educational,indoctrination program in the schools.He will continue to undermine traditional families by depriving people of the consequences for poor behavior, and reward them with taxpayer funded welfare checks,free day care,and a host of other benefits. This, to a naive adolescent, may be attractive. It enables and encourages these destructive patterns of reckless,irresponsible behavior.The shutdown is unfair on so many levels to the infirm, disabled, aged, and unfairly furloughed  state employees.We can and should discuss how to best divide the available revenue. We should also agree that it is enough, not to recreate the Garden of Eden, but enough to continue with. Conservatives work to preserve and improve.The undermining force in our country, culture. and in the Church is the Progressive Poisons we are force fed by Utopian Progressives who wish to recreate the truth and the world . A soft, atheistic, Marxist Totalitarianism, that is both Anti-Catholic and Anti-American is here among us. It’s face is a benign bigotry, paired with artistic sophistry, and intellectual dishonesty. ” The smoke of Satan is here,now.” We,by the grace of God, can prevent the fire from spreading.

    • God=Love

      Well Kodonovan don’t you sound like a racist. I learned in church that God wants us to help the needy & poor. God wants us to love & help each other, not to discriminate against the poor or GLBTQ people. You said “The smoke of Satan is here, now.” Yes he is and Satan is filling your heart with hate and judgement of people. Maybe you should volunteer and help the homeless and actually talk with them about why they are homeless. Maybe you could teach them how not to be homeless.

  • Anonymous

    I must recant remarks I made earlier in one of the blogs that our Archbishop and the Minnesota Catholic Conference has not said enough about this shut down. They have done remarkably well, perhaps, they could be even more out in the media using this moment not only in the Catholic Spirit but in the general public media. That being said, our state was once prosperous and had a high standard of living. I saw that go away when the tax cuts/rebates of Jesse Ventura and Tim Pawlenty gave away the budget surplus that would have helped our state through this economic downturn. I thought that was foolish then and I have been proven correct. A penny wise, pound foolish is what we have had in the governor’s office the last 12 years. Unlike an earlier commentator, who is seeing the Communist Manifesto being legislated by the Democrats in particular, what I see the root causes of this problem is that Minnesota, in particular, our political parties have lost sight of the “Common Good” of all people in their legislation of laws. Americans have been infected over the past 30 years (remember the “Me Decade” of the 80’s?) with a self-centered individualism that places the needs of the individual over and above in importance over the common good. This selfishness  is contrary to the Gospel message of Jesus who gives us the mandate to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselvesas the primary mandate for living. Jesus emphasizes this more explicitly in the final judgement of Matthew’s Gospel where those who have fed the poor, clothed the naked, visited the imprisoned and welcomed the stranger are welcomed into heaven, while those who have ignored the plight of the poor, the sick, the hungry are condemned to eternal punishment.We need in our personal lives and in our public lives, e.g. political, to infuse the State of Minnesota once more with the Biblical Individualism that St. Paul espouses. The needs of the Body of Christ are more important than the individual need of the one part of the Body. In political terms, John Kennedy expressed it this way, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Regardless of what Party one espouses, if the Common Good is not at the center of the Party’s platform, then that Party is morally bankrupt. There has been enough political posturing on the part of both the Republicans and the Democrats. It is time that both sides of the aisle begin to act as true legislators and begin to find a common ground, a compromise that will serve the needs of all Minnesotans, not just their narrow little following. Neither one of these Parties received an overwhelming mandate in the last election. Both just barely made it into office by the narrowness of margins. I am proud of the Archbishop and the Minnesota Catholic Conference for speaking out on this issue and equally proud of the Catholic Spirit’s voice in this matter. They are upholding the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Preferential Option for the Poor. Throughout Holy Scripture, especially in the prophetic books, God cries out for Justice and Peace. He condemns Israel for ignoring the plight of the widows and orphans and tells the rulers of that nation that the blood of the poor are on their hands. It is time now for all of us who are Catholics to call our government leaders to the same harsh reality, whether they be Republican or Democrat. Unless they come to an agreement that will serve the needs of the common good, the blood of the poor, elderly and vulnerable will be on their hands.