As the budget negotiations draw to a close, Interfaith Impact is participating in a variety of activities in coalition with other faith-based groups to advocate for the common good and shine the light of truth into the dark corners of power where the deals are cut. When a voice for our shared religious values is needed, IINYS is there.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE COMMON GOOD?
A Call for a Moral Budget
By Rev. Richard S. Gilbert
Interfaith Impact of New York State, a coalition of Reform Jews, Protestants and Unitarian Universalists, has long advocated for a state budget with a moral foundation. The budget presented by Governor Cuomo does not meet that test as it gives to the “haves” and takes from the “have nots.” We ask “whatever happened to the Common Good?”
New York State has the widest gap between rich and poor of any state in the nation. The increasing “skyboxification of American life” is enhanced by tax cuts for wealthy individuals and banks, while 87 school districts in our state, 13%, face financial stress, according to State Comptroller DiNapoli.
New York State mirrors a nation in which the rich have a morally corrupting superfluity; the middle class struggles up the down escalator; the scandal of poverty in the midst of plenty increases; the U. S. ranks number 1 in spending on health care, but drops to the 30’s in results;
And, in this state, we bribe companies with tax-free zones, lavish $7 billion on often dubious economic development projects. The rest of us pick up the tab, our schools fire teachers and our minimum wage falls short of even our neighboring states. Resistance to hiking the minimum wage seems to increase with personal wealth. Perhaps we should consider a maximum wage. Most good homes have both floors and ceilings.
Too many politicians are like weather vanes – they indicate only wind direction. Campaign 2012 seemed more an auction than an election, and election 2014 will apparently be more of the same. But it seems to Interfaith Impact that “If you can afford to buy an election, you can afford to pay higher taxes!” We seem to be moving toward “government of the 1%, by the 1% and for the 1%,” experiencing more of a “sucking up” than a “trickling down” of income and wealth. “What we need is a cure for greedlock.”
It is time for those of us in the prophetic religious tradition to say ENOUGH, and to insist New York redirect tax cuts for the wealthy into investing in our people and our schools.
Moral Mondays in March
The Moral Monday movement, which started in North Carolina, has come to New York. Interfaith Impact, the Labor Religion Coalition, the NY Council of Churches and representatives from various faith traditions are meeting each Monday for 45 minutes in “War Room”* outside the Governor’s Office in the Capitol Building. [*It’s called the “War Room” because its rotunda is decorated with images of hand-to-hand combat, which seems an appropriate metaphor for what’s happening at the tables of power in that building.]
Our purpose is to call attention the State budget as a moral document as the final language is drafted before the April 1st deadline. If you are anywhere near the Capitol on Mondays in March, consider joining us as we speak out for a budget that reflects the needs of all New Yorkers and does not give billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy, money that has been wrested from cut backs on road and bridge repairs, the firing of nearly 40,000 teachers, and under-staffing state agencies that provide vital services.
Last fall, Interfaith Impact was the only religious advocacy organization invited to give oral testimony on moral issues in state government to the Moreland Commission, which is investigating corruption in the Legislature. That testimony is available at www.interfaithimpactnys.org. Our support of Moral Mondays is a continuation of our efforts to provide moral guidance to the Legislature and Executive Chamber.
Through our moral approach to the NYS budget, we are advocating for fair elections, fair taxes, and Labor Department staffing to stop wage theft.
IINYS is working with our allies in New York City and Albany to urge the Legislature to protect workers who are cheated out of their wages. There are currently 14,000 open cases at the NYS Department of Labor and a five year backlog. This situation is especially hard for the low-wage workers who are forced to wait years for a resolution of their cases, and often have little to show for it in the end.
This is about the dignity of work and the worker. As recognized in scripture, philosophy and the NY Constitution, labor is not a commodity. It is a fundamental bond that ties communities together, and that makes it a moral issue. When the bond of trust between employers and workers is eroded through cheating, the whole community suffers. Right now, the DOL is not doing enough to protect workers from wage theft. A budget allocation for more DOL wage and hour investigators would help restore the balance. Only the legislature can accomplish this.
Last year, IINYS advocated for matching funds for candidates for state offices using a system similar to that in place in New York City. That bill passed in the Assembly, and there is money for fair elections in the Governor’s proposed budget, but its fate in the Senate is uncertain. Encourage your representative in the NY State Senate to support it.
The Governor’s budget contains more than a billion dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy while our roads and bridges crumble, children go hungry, and our schools are underfunded. This is immoral, and we are calling the Governor out on it every chance we get.
The Dream Act
This bill would have made it possible for the undocumented children of undocumented immigrants to receive help with tuition and enter a path toward citizenship. It failed by two votes in the NYS Senate, which we view as a moral failure on the part of the Senate.
What Happens After April 1st
Whether or not the budget passes on time, other legislation will demand our attention in April, May and June.
Women’s Equality Agenda
This 10-part agenda passed the Assembly but not the Senate last year. It’s important that all ten parts pass, including a woman’s right to medically approved, comprehensive reproductive health care with contraception and abortion services.
The IINYS board in January voted to support the legalization of medical marijuana in New York. “Our religious communities are united in advocating compassion for those who suffer and our responsibility of to care for them,” said the Rev. Richard Gilbert, President of IINYS. “We have seen our friends, neighbors, associates and congregation members suffer needlessly from a variety of debilitating and painful diseases whose suffering could be alleviated by medical marijuana”
The legislation (A.6357-a/S.4406-a) sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Sen. Diane Savino would enable doctors to certify patient need and prescribe marijuana for the treatment of serious and debilitating illnesses. The bill has received support in the Assembly, but stalled in the Senate, where it has never been put up for vote.
The Gender Non-Discrimination Act (S195B) is languishing in the NYS Senate. During our IINYS Advocacy Day on Monday, May 12th, we will be advocating for this straightforward civil rights bill, which ensures that all New Yorkers are free from discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
HALT Solitary Confinement Act
The Humane Alternatives to Solitary Confinement Act (S-6466-2013/A8588-2013) will limit the time an inmate can spend in segregated confinement, end the segregated confinement of vulnerable people, restrict the criteria that can result in such confinement, improve conditions of confinement, and create more humane and effective alternatives to such confinement. According to human rights groups, more than 15 consecutive days in solitary is torture that begins to destroy both body and mind. Here in New York, inmates are spending months and even years in isolation confinement. This practice is cruel and degrading. The administrative practice of holding prisoners in isolation for long periods needs to be restrained and limits placed on its use in correctional facilities.
IINYS is part of CAIC (Coalition for Alternatives to Isolation Confinement), which is actively working on this bill. The CAIC will come together in Albany to advocate for this bill on Monday, May 5th.
IINYS is opposed to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas at this time. The technology poses unacceptable risks for current and future generations. We urge Gov. Cuomo not to allow this destructive technology to enter New York.
We are monitoring the evolving situation with the exponential increase in oil trains travelling through New York, each carrying some 3-million gallons of highly volatile Bakken crude oil, and the preparations being made to ship heavy crude oil from Canadian tar sands as well. This is a regulatory problem that is being worked on by many levels of government and by groups of concerned citizens such as PAUSE in Albany and statewide by the Sierra Club.
Repeal the Citizens United Decision
There is a movement in New York to encourage the Legislature to pass a resolution in opposition to the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which appears to confer personhood on corporations and tip the balance of democracy in favor of moneyed interests. The repeal resolution coalition will hold an advocacy day on April 28th with a press conference at noon on the third floor terrace of the Legislative Office Building. IINYS will have a representative at the press conference.
Health Care for All
IINYS recognizes that single payer health care, Medicare for All, might be a better universal health care insurance system than the Affordable Care Act, but what we have is the ACA, and it can be affordable. To see what the actual cost could be, go to http://www.barackobama.com/health-care-cost-calculator/. So far, the roll-out of the ACA (Obamacare) appears to be going reasonably well in New York. We will continue to monitor the situation.
In November, voters amended the NY Constitution to allow private casino gambling. IINYS actively opposed this proposition, but now the effort to stop casinos has shifted to local advocates. For information on the negative effects of casino gambling, see the recent American Values Institute report, Seniors in Casino Land (http://americanvalues.org/catalog/pdfs/seniors-in-casino-land.pdf) and visit the CAGNY (Coalition Against Gambling in New York) web site (www.cagnyinf.org).
Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (A1792A-2013/S1743A-2013)
This long-overdue bill was passed by the Assembly last year and died in the Senate. It is again in the Assembly Labor Committee. It will grant collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits to farmworkers.
The minimum wage in New York was raised last year. Right now it is $8 for non-tipped hourly workers. It will rise to $8.75 on 12/31/14 and $9.00 on 12/31/15. We support Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s call to have the $9 hourly rate kick in sooner and to raise it to more than $10 per hour. We support indexing the minimum wage to inflation, provided the starting wage is livable. We also urge NY Commissioner of Labor Peter Rivera to call immediately a minimum wage board for tip workers, as required by the legislation passed last year.
Forum: Putting the Public in Public Education in Rochester
Interfaith Impact and our allies in the Rochester area are presenting a forum on public education on Sunday, April 6th, from 2:00 to 4-30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road, Rochester, NY 14610. The speakers are Dr. Leonard M. Brock, Executive for Education, The Children’s Agenda;
Rev. Dr. Michael J. Ford, Senior Minister, Lake Avenue Memorial Baptist Church; and Dr. Kevin McGowan, Superintendent of the Brighton Central Schools. For more information, call 585-442-5111.
IINYS Advocacy Day
The annual Interfaith Impact advocacy day is an important showing of support for legislation that impacts our shared values of community, compassion and justice. We will be advocating for Women’s Equality, transgender rights, and economic justice. Plan now to join us as we raise up our voices in the seats of power.
Registration for IINYS Advocacy Day
Monday, May 12, 2014
10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (room location to come)
Send an e-mail to [email protected] with the information below
Congregation/Affiliation: _________________________________________________ Clergy: ___yes ___no
Interfaith Impact of NYS depends on the donation of friends and members to maintain a year-round presence in Albany. Without your support, our voice could grow silent. That would greatly please those who disagree with us, but leave a profound emptiness where our liberal, progressive religious voice should be.
Please, consider a generous donation now. Go to http://www.interfaithimpactnys.org/Donations.html
Interfaith Impact of NYS, P.O. Box 7163, NYS Capitol Building, Albany, NY 12203.
Web site: www.interfaithimpactnys.org. Phone number: 518-463-5652.
Interfaith Impact of NYS
Interfaith Impact of NYS · PO Box 7163, New York State Capitol Building, Albany, NY 12224, United States