Inside the Capitol
State legislators are debating what to do with a massive budgetary windfall – an approximately $7.7 billion surplus. The news of the surplus prompted the governor and legislative leaders from both parties to voice their spending and tax cut proposals.
Democrat legislative leaders voiced support for investments in programs that improve the economic circumstances of all Minnesotans and emphasized a refusal to cut taxes for “big corporations and rich individuals.” Other Democrats noted that the surplus showed government was “underfunded.” Republicans expressed a different view, sounding a note of caution about the speculative nature of budget forecasts while at the same time calling for a focus on statewide tax relief.
Getting to the right solution is made more difficult when the issues are framed wrongly. Both sides are starting from a partisan stance that forces groups within the state into a zero-sum game over something we all helped to create. But the real question is, what is the purpose of economic success and abundance?
For that answer we can turn to the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church, which helps us place this extraordinary surplus in context. “Riches fulfill their function of service to man when they are destined to produce benefits for others in society” (CSDC 329). The Compendium goes on to say that spending is directed to the common good when there is precision and integrity in administering and distributing public resources. In the redistribution of resources, “public spending must pay greater attention to families, designating an adequate amount of resources for this purpose” (CSDC 355).
The family is the cornerstone of society. When families are fragmented, children suffer, and we all face the long-term consequences of that suffering in the form of delinquency, crime, addiction, poverty, and more broken families, for which the state often picks up the tab. So rather than indiscriminate tax cuts or more social programs that are never enough and speak more to symptoms of the problem than root causes, why not get to the heart of the matter: strengthening families?
The root word of economy is the Greek word “oikos,” which means “household.” We need to start directing our resources toward families: making it easier to get married, stay married, have children and bear the cost of raising them. Concretely, that means things like a child allowance, paid leave programs, school choice, housing supports, addiction counseling, and yes, tax cuts, too. The needs of families are endless and need creative solutions that don’t fit into binary partisan or ideological boxes.
The leaders of our state’s divided government may not agree on the best way to make use of our wealth, but both Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders pointed to the surplus as an “opportunity.” It is upon this common ground that the Minnesota Catholic Conference will endeavor to help legislators ensure that the fortifying families is at the center of their decisions.
Pray for our lawmakers that they may be guided by the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity as make decisions in this time of abundance. In addition to prayer, contact your legislator to discuss how we can make 2022 the year Minnesota begins making family economics the starting point for all decisions about distribution of our state’s financial resources.