Mo’ Budget Blues

In Lewis Carroll’s wondrous poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” the anthropomorphic marine mammal intones that, “The time has come …to speak of many things.”

Note to Missouri legislators: That time has come and gone.


Yes, there’s a time for endless philosophical and political wrangling. About conservatism and liberalism, capitalism and socialism, personal versus collective responsibility.

Those are all great things to discuss when we have the time and the luxury of a healthy and helpful economy. But not now.

Now is the time to recognize that more are in need in our state than at any time since the Great Depression. Fully one in six Missourians received food stamp assistance in January. A quarter million of the Missouri workforce was without jobs at the end of February as the unemployment rate swelled to 8.3 percent.

The situation, both in-state and nationally, calls for all of us to focus on the most essential human protections. As Maslow postulated in 1943 in his Hierarchy of Needs, essential physiological functions are the most fundamental of all.

Yet in blatant disregard for essential human needs, The Missouri House of Representatives has passed a 2010 budget that contains many drastic cuts to critical social service areas, such as mental health, abuse and neglect, senior needs, and health insurance for low-income families. The Missouri Senate will be considering its own budget bills in weeks to come.

It is apparent that the House members who eviscerated Governor Jay Nixon’s budget, and the state senators who are proposing equally substantial cuts, do not subscribe to our state’s own motto:

Salus populi suprema lex esto. The Welfare of the People Shall be the Supreme Law.

As reported in these pages last week, religious leaders from the St. Louis area have banded together to express their outrage at the legislature’s disregard for the plight of the needy.

The Jewish Community Relations Council, its 19 affiliated Jewish organizations and local rabbis have urged community members to immediately contact their state senators. The message–reverse the harsh budget cuts and restore critically needed funds for health, human services and social welfare.

The rabbis of Congregation Shaare Emeth frame the essential issue in a recent Call to Action to the synagogue’s members: “In a few weeks, Jews around the world will read from our Torah portion from Chapter 19 in the Book of Leviticus, where we are commanded not to place a stumbling block before the blind.

“Our tradition mandates that we do not place extra burdens, impediments or obstacles before those who are already struggling…with a physical disability or those who are struggling economically. The budget cuts proposed by the Missouri House of Representatives…unfortunately will do both.”

There is virtually no one left in American society who doesn’t know someone affected by the state of our economy – someone who has lost his or her job or house, has become ill and is unable to afford health care, cannot provide food or basic amenities for his or her family.

This is not an issue of city versus country, white collar versus blue collar, young versus old. We are all in this together, and unless we support each other, it will only get worse, not better.

We urge legislators to shed their political and ideological hats for the moment. Look seriously at those affected and focus on their needs, not your own. Not what will advance a career, not what will advance an agenda, not what will advance a worldview.

Simply, plainly, yes, even innocently, look at those who are hurting, and let their plight serve as your sole and unwavering focus.

As Lewis Carroll would say, at this point, anything else is mere Jabberwocky.