Where 'moral document' meets 'socialist fiction'

Hann, Nienstedt
State Sen. David Hann (left), R-Eden Prairie, and Rev. John Nienstedt, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis are seen in file photos.
File photos

Editor's note: Last week, the Rev. John Nienstedt, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, wrote to Gov. Mark Dayton offering his thoughts on the current state budget impasse. Then state Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, sent Nienstedt a letter in response. Both letters appear in full below--first Nienstedt's, then Hann's.

Dear Governor Dayton,

I am writing to share with you my concerns regarding the current state budget situation that you are seeking to solve. I pray for you daily that you find the common ground that will protect the common good.

By "common good," I would include such considerations as: fulfilling the demands of justice and moral obligations to future generation, protecting the lives and dignity of those who are poor and vulnerable as well as controlling future debt and deficits. I am particularly concerned that you find a just framework for a budget that does not rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to those living in poverty.

As Tim Marx, our new CEO of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and I discussed last week, increasing the depth and breadth of poverty is bad fiscal policy and bad economic policy. Ignoring our responsibilities for those most at risk will require more costs in services as well as result in reduced productivity. All of us should expect to be able to meet our basic needs of housing, food and health care. Our children, in particular, should be guaranteed the opportunity to begin life with a healthy start.

I want to assure you that our Catholic congregations and agencies like Catholic Charities have stepped up their efforts to meet the needs of those who are suffering under this current economic decline. However our work is a shared responsibility with government as we seek to protect the common good of all members of our society, especially families who struggle to live with dignity under the stress of these difficult times.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

Let me conclude by encouraging you to put all of the tools that are at your disposal to work. Spending reductions, program delivery reform and increased revenue should all be on the table. It is important to remember that last year, state government funding got a significant boost from the federal stimulus package which enabled the state to assist the many in our society who are getting left behind.

A state budget is a moral document since a central measure of any budget proposal is how it affects the poorest among us. The needs of the hungry, the homeless, the unemployed and the disabled must be of primary importance.

Thank you for your willingness to be of service to the State of Minnesota. Again, my prayers are with you.

Cordially yours,

John C. Nienstedt

Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

Your Excellency:

I received today via e-mail from Governor Dayton's office a copy of a letter you sent him on June 7. Let me say first that I have worked very closely in past years in the State Senate with the Archdiocese on education issues and have great respect for you, your office and the work the Archdiocese does.

However, I was extremely disappointed to learn you endorse the socialist fiction that it is a moral necessity to take the property of the "wealthy" under the assumption that those resources are better used by politicians and bureaucrats than by the individuals who earn them. You speak of hopes the Governor will create justice by adopting a budget that "does not rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services". Although not said explicitly, I take your statement to mean the proposed legislative budget does that.

Perhaps you are unaware that the budget the legislature passed is the largest budget in Minnesota history. It spends slightly more than the current budget if the one-time federal dollars are included and almost $4 billion more if only Minnesota tax dollars are counted. The Health and Human Services portion of the budget spends about $800 million more than the current budget -- an eight percent increase. The K-12 Education budget spends almost $500 million more than current levels.

I take offense at the description [of] the legislative budget proposal as, "increasing the depth and breadth of poverty". For you to do so is akin to me suggesting the Church favors abortion and same sex marriage because you support a Governor who has made these issues a central part of his "moral" calculus.

Certainly we need to be charitable to the neediest among us. Are government programs charitable? Is a pathway to human dignity found in creating dependence on government and suggesting to people that their lives would be better but for the "greedy rich" not being willing to pay their fair share?

You may not know it but the top one percent of income earners in the state provide almost 25% of the total income tax revenue we spend; the top ten percent provide almost 60%. To suggest this group is not "paying their fair share" is simply inaccurate. The idea that more and more of government spending should be provided by fewer and fewer people is not "fair"; it is a recipe for political tyranny and economic disaster.

The Archdiocese has a budget. I am sure a large part of it goes to provide essential human services. I am also certain the demands for material sustenance exceed the resources available. Does the Archdiocese respond to that situation by accepting that all demands for help are just and by requiring, as a condition of communion, that those needs are to be provided for without question by the few wealthy members of the congregation? Yet this is what you suggest state government do.

If I may quote from a recent article in First Things (to which I have been a long-time subscriber) written by Catholic theologian R.R. Reno, "A Christian who hopes to follow the teachings of Jesus needs to reckon with a singular fact about American poverty: Its deepest and most debilitating deficits are moral, not financial; the most serious deprivations are cultural, not economic."

It would seem to me the Church has a large task in correcting the moral deficits of our citizens. Telling people they have a moral claim on someone else's property is wrong and certainly doesn't help in that work. What the legislature has tried to do is what you, and every individual and organization in the state tries to do: Do the best we can with what we have.


David W. Hann

State Senator

Senate District 42