Is reliance on gambling a “black hole” for Minnesota?

29 April 2011

The April 28 edition of the Star Tribune carried a provocative commentary by Chaska Minister Gordon C. Stewart of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church. It is reprinted here in full:

Are we taxpayers or citizens? Taxpaying citizens?

The Legislature is considering revenue from expanded gambling as a way to fill the pothole in the state budget. Opponents and proponents have focused on everything but the underlying premise that created that pothole in the first place.

Slowly, over time, drip by drip, the foundations of the most basic assumption about who and what we are — the language that made us a democratic republic — has eroded, until today we can barely see the republic’s shadow.

Once we defined ourselves as “citizens,” responsible for ourselves and the common good. Now we define ourselves as “taxpayers.” Once we were Minnesotans and Americans, responsible for paying the state’s and nation’s bills with the sweat of our brows.

Now we are possessors whose freedom to stare at a slot machine is assaulted by taxes. We are independent operators, free agents who might get lucky, who see taxes as evil. We look to the goodness of casinos, racinos, lottery tickets, slot machines and a gambling mentality to pay for the common life.What too often goes unsaid is that we are all tax beneficiaries.

Before I leave my home, I am a tax beneficiary. My water and sewerage, my electricity, my gas, my fire protection, the peace officer who patrols the neighborhood — all are partly or totally paid for by taxation. Every time I drive somewhere on a public road, I am a tax beneficiary, dependent upon public services. Every time I shop for safe food or safe prescription drugs, or eat at a restaurant, I am a tax beneficiary every bit as much as I am a taxpayer.

We are all taxpayers. Everyone who lives in this country — citizens and undocumentedmworkers alike — pays taxes at the gas pump, at the store, etc. What the antitax mantra endorses is a privatization that sees me and mine independently from the rest of the society on which my daily life depends.

Those who decry being taxpayers, in fact, are either making the case that we should all be free-loaders — tax beneficiaries who don’t pay our fair share — or that Minnesota and America should embrace a free market free-for-all, most fully expressed, perhaps, in the drug wars in Mexico.

Every time I hit a pothole, every time the streets go unplowed, every time essential services are cut back, all of us taxpayers lose the benefits of a nation that once defined us as responsible citizens.

The proposal to fill the pothole in Minnesota’s budget with gambling is but the latest erosion in the sense of responsible citizenship. It threatens to turn the pothole into a political, economic and spiritual black hole.

It prolongs the illusion that real freedom is freedom from the responsibilities of citizenship. Drip by drip, it is turning us into a Third World nation where nobody but the blank-staring gamblers pay, and no one but the no-tax drug lords benefit.