Income must be a part of resolving budget fight

Published 11:01 am Thursday, July 7, 2011


For the Herald

Like most Minnesota families, ours has been through some lean times through the years. We have known days when we watched every penny at the grocery store, cut down our entertainment expenses to almost nothing, turned the thermostat down day and night, cut out unnecessary driving. We also have been to the point where we simply needed to provide a little more income for this family. So my wife has taken on a few more piano students, or I have moonlighted as a freelance musician, and we have made a little more income to bridge the gap.

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Now one could say, I suppose, that when we experienced those lean times, we never really explored the full extent of cuts that were possible in our family life. After all, lots of people don’t have life insurance, or health insurance; why should we? Lots of people don’t have a car and certainly not money for entertainment. And lots of people don’t go to the dentist or the eye doctor, or any doctor, for that matter. Who are we to think we need those things? But at some point we decided that raising income was a better solution than continued cuts, for at some point cuts seemed unhealthy or foolhardy for our family.

Businesses, churches and non-profits go through similar processes. When lean times come, they find ways to cut expenses and often these are significant and painful, but through creativity and hard work, they get the job done. At some point, however, they too realize that further cuts are unhealthy and foolhardy for their organization and mission and so they seek to enhance the income side of the equation.

During the days of the Pawlenty administration, we listened as the constant message from the governor’s office was that cuts to our public services were necessary. And I watched as the court system, law enforcement, city governments, schools, highway departments, state parks, hospitals and nursing homes, and a whole host of other entities that depend on state funds, cut their costs. These cuts were significant and painful and yet with creativity and a lot of hard work, the people that work in these areas got the job done.

Now these same people are saying that further cuts are both unhealthy and foolhardy. They are saying that what is needed now is to enhance the income side of the equation. “Oh, come on,” say their critics. “Lots of businesses and families do with less than you have. Do what they do, and quit your whining.” Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, in a Star Tribune editorial suggested that the overall workforce of the state could be cut by 15 percent by 2015 and that to miss this “once-in-a-generation opportunity” would be foolhardy.

What Rep. Downey fails to admit is that businesses and families don’t just continue to cut expenses willy-nilly until their budgets are so lean they can no longer function in a healthy or effective way; at some point they decide that more income is necessary. Sure, there are “opportunities” to make further cuts; there always are — like a family deciding to quit sending their kids to the dentist — but at some point we decide we have reached the tipping point and so we look at the income side. To suggest that state governments don’t need to do the same is simply failure to tell the whole story.

Glenn Monson is the pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Austin