Building a budget for Texas

How do we balance the special needs of our neighbors with the limits of our public resources? If you have the answer and can convince everyone you’re right, you’ll be a hero in Austin during this session of the state legislature. For the first time in years, Texas faces the struggles of budget cutting. This fairly rare experience in our state makes the problem more difficult. Texas special interest groups have previously experienced the blessing of contending for limited but increasing revenue. This year they struggle to keep part of a shrinking pie. During a visit to the capital I saw several groups pacing the hallways in advocacy for one budget line or another. One small group of special needs folks were arrested during a sit in at the Governor’s office. All the causes have champions and no cuts will be popular with everyone. However, some biblical principles should guide our thinking about the budget process.

The emotional rhetoric of political debate should be tempered by mercy and reason. In Col. 4:6 we are instructed to speak graciously to one another, our language seasoned with the healing, preserving, distinctive salt of gospel truth. I saw a recent headline that referred to some proposed social ministry programs being “slashed.” The difference between a cut or reduction and a slash is violence. Did the writer intend to imply malicious intent on the part of the committee that proposed the budget? If so, he knows something that is not evident to anyone who has met the members. Budget cuts are not hostile acts toward, children, the disabled, retired people, teachers, or improvement projects. Christians at least should avoid applying evil motives to all those with whom we disagree.PAN class=body>

Next, we must take care of our own. I Tim. 5:8 says that we should do exactly that or be guilty of denying faith. How’s that? Even false religions teach that we should provide for our families and our neighbors. If Christians don’t do that, our behavior compares badly with even a noble pagan. Thus we deny the truth of the gospel because our conduct is worse than that of an unbeliever. One representative said last week that some of the budget problems would be solved if people who can will take responsibility for their own needs and for those of their families. It seems so obvious. But do we carefully examine the emotional claims of those who need and want strangers to care for them? We don’t and we often can’t. That makes the role of our state representatives even more crucial.PAN class=body>

We also must teach the truth in our public policy. Social programs must carefully avoid making people dependent on public aid for long periods of time. It simply is not true that responsible, autonomous beings can should on others to continually solve their problems. It creates a culture of servitude and helplessness that brings defeat to the family and reproach to the culture. I don’t buy into the myth of the welfare Cadillac but I have also seen the spiritual cancer of an entitlement mentality. If it is wrong for you and wrong for me, we are equally wrong imposing it on our neighbors. Social programs must be aimed at assisting families to once again be capable of meeting their own needs. Where that is not true, a program is a curse disguised as a blessing.

Families must also be left with resources adequate for their own needs and for ministry after they have paid for public projects at the local, state, and national level. This is also a challenge. Rising taxes of all types creates a cynical, hopeless attitude in those who regularly pay them. “If government (no longer ‘us’ but now ‘them’) is going to take 20-30% of my income, let them take care of everything,” the reasoning may go. If we have an opportunity to get some of that money back in a program or entitlement, we feel that we are due. Again, better that we could have kept some of that for our own use and ministry. If we are to care for our own and if we are to care for “the least of these,” leave us the resources and heart to address those needs.

At the same time, we are wrong, greedy to make public policy decisions solely based on what will prosper us personally. It is not the role of government to take from others so that I might be more comfortable. Some things are right and appropriate quite apart from how they impact my family. Our faith is in God; we depend on him and not on public money for the things we need.

Finally, casino gambling is not a solution. It will increase family break ups, personal bankruptcy, crime, and general strain on public services. It is a regressive form of taxation just like the state lottery. Those who are most likely to play will do so at the expense of their family needs. It is not the beautiful people with disposable income that frequent the casinos. It is not general hilarity that ensues with each pull of a slot machine. Something far more sinister is behind the temptation, the desperate need to hit it big. Tragedy is far more likely than triumph. Revenue, at least the state’s portion, from gambling is seldom as great as advertised. The strain on human services is always discounted. Additionally, it is an unseemly way for us to save our state budget.

I don’t know what should be cut and what should not. I pray that our state legislature has the guidance of God as it debates the budget in coming weeks. Join me in that. If you want to contact your representative or senator to assure him of your prayers or to express an opinion, go to http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/for help. A list of legislators can be searched by typing in your precinct number or zip code. You can find his office phone number or send an e-mail from there. I hear that phone calls are the most effective way of getting your message heard. Do that. Advocate for biblical priorities as these men and women set the course for our s

Correspondent
Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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