St. Paul, Minn. (April 11, 2011) – A broad coalition of Minnesota religious groups says that the budget and tax plans of the Legislature will increase poverty and desperation for families who have already struggled to survive the recession.
“Both the House and Senate budget plans include multiple negative impacts on struggling families. We will see it in service reductions, limits on economic opportunity, lost direct assistance, lost access to health care, and direct tax increases,” observed Brian Rusche, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition. “The legislature is asking families who are already struggling with their bills to pay for deficit reduction in multiple ways. The aggregate impact is unjust, especially given that poor families were hurt most by this recession and did nothing to create this budget shortfall.”
Loss of child care assistance, job training, emergency aid, health coverage, mental health and disability services combined with reductions in the renters credit, more regressive property taxes, increased transit fares, and more expensive post-secondary education are very real budget impacts that seem to pile upon the very same families.
“People at lower incomes are being asked to take the brunt of the budget reductions, and it’s happening across the budget bills. The cumulative impact is a tsunami, fast approaching,” said Rusche. He fears “a direct increase in poverty, family crises, children in unstable situations, and more people in desperate circumstances.”
Rev. Doug Mitchell, chair of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, is alarmed by the “very stark terms in the budget bills and the damage we will do to children, families, and adults. Our interfaith partners have very grave concerns about putting thousands of families further away from adequate health care, food, and shelter. I fear the landscape of Minnesota will change in ways that will be shameful. Minnesotans are better than this.”
Leaders in the faith community are urging Minnesotans to engage more deeply on the budget shortfall. “Partisan positioning isn’t working,” observed Lutheran Bishop Peter Rogness. “These problems are deeper and more complex than that.” He urges Minnesotans to “recognize the moral value judgments contained in budget decisions, and to remember how God asks us to treat our neighbors. We need to look through that lens at the way our public life is shaped and funded. Our state government supports all of us in many ways.” Rogness expressed concern about the budget bills and their reliance on reducing health care and assistance to people who are ill, poor or vulnerable.
“We should insist on fair solutions that build the common good and don’t leave the least able behind.”
Rusche admits disappointment in how the budget bills are shaping up. “The Governor, even with his added revenues, proposed some very painful cuts. I had held out some hope that we would see the legislature adopt creative ideas and some novel approaches in their budget bills. But with few exceptions, we’re looking at a deeper, cuts-only retrenchment proposal and it’s aimed largely at families who are really struggling with low-incomes and a very difficult jobs market.”
The JRLC has consistently called for new revenues, raised fairly to be part of a budget solution. Rusche notes that tax revenues are needed because “state revenues collapsed during the recession, the one-time money is gone, and even the Legislature’s tax bills now rely on huge property tax hikes. The challenge is raising new revenue fairly and how to avert the crises for neighbors who have the least.”