(Commentary by executive director Sara Niccoli, published in the Albany Times Union, April 2, 2015)
The New York state budget comes during the Christian holy week, an observance of the week Jesus entered into Jerusalem, cast the profiteers out of the temple, and went to the cross. In New York state, where upstate cities endure a 50 percent childhood poverty rate, the state Legislature just passed a budget that includes a tax break on private yachts and airplanes. Clearly, New York has its own profiteers.
The story of Jesus is a story of love (don't let the hate coming out of Indiana fool you). And, ultimately, a budget should also exemplify love. The line item numbers in the budget say how much we will set aside to educate our children, how much we will spend on programs for the hungry and homeless, and how much we will ask working families to pay in taxes. The budget also says how much we will subsidize multinational corporations, what tax breaks we will give to wealthy individuals, and how many children and families will be excluded from the benefits of society.
This budget demonstrates love for money and power and sets aside love for humanity. Tax reforms requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share were never even on the table. Public schools are left underfunded and state aid is cruelly linked to unnecessary testing. It leaves out a minimum wage increase and adequate funding for homelessness and hunger programs.
Jesus took on the rulers of his time because they let money hold dominion where it should not. They ignored the common good while amassing power for themselves. In the face of poverty and inequality, Jesus rejected the social order of the day and instead prioritized service to the least among us.
In Albany, we have our own money-changers to cast out. While the state budget should simply serve the common good, the reality of the political landscape is that people fall to the very bottom of the agenda.
The budget is the result of a transactional approach to policymaking in which our work, our children's education and our tax dollars are simply political leverage, to be bought and sold, traded and dealt, on a political market rigged to serve the wealthy. And so, inevitably, the budget includes things like tax breaks for yachts.
We're asked to understand the reality of the political process and accept a terrible budget as victory because it could have been worse. True. But Jesus took a fundamentally different approach. Jesus sought to turn the tables completely.
It's time for New Yorkers to be bold, to stand up to the deal-making and profiteering in Albany that makes a political game of people's lives.
Let's go to the Capitol. Let's go to the voting booth. Let's get the money out of politics and elect leadership that comes together in service of the common good. Employment and wages will rise, the hungry will be fed, the homeless will be housed, and every child will have access to quality education.
That's love. That's the teaching of Christ.