A new tuition tax deduction for parents of children in independent, religious and out-of-district schools is one initiative area Catholics will encourage state lawmakers to support during the New York State Catholic Conference’s annual Public Policy Day in Albany March 13.
The deduction was proposed in Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s executive budget, which was released in January. According to the Catholic conference, which represents the state’s bishops in matters of public policy, the tuition tax deduction would help Catholic schools stay open in the future. That would be in the state’s best interest, the conference points out, because closing Catholic schools increases the tax burden on all state residents and adds to the strain on an already overcrowded public-school system.
Prior years’ Public Policy Days have attracted 800 to 1,000 Catholics, said Dennis Poust, the Catholic conference’s director of communications. This year’s event will include meetings with elected representatives; a workshop that will provide participants with an overview of the issues; Mass concelebrated by Cardinal Edward Egan of New York and the state’s other bishops; lunch in the Convention Center; a youth lunch and workshop with youth-ministry expert Sister Eileen McCann, SSJ; and time for participants to visit the Legislature while it is in session, meet legislators, hand out flyers, take pictures and attend committee meetings.
The day also enables parishioners to reach a better understanding of how state government operates, said Marvin Mich, director of social policy and research at Rochester’s Catholic Family Center. Part of the power of the day comes from unity with other Catholics, he said.
“Because we come from all over New York state, it’s important that we see we are part of larger effort,” Mich said.
Catholics will speak out against Spitzer’s budget proposal to use $2.1 billion in public funds for embryonic stem-cell research. The conference position is that medical treatments using embryonic stem cells are unethical, unnecessary and unsuccessful, and that a proposed bond act to pay for such research would be fiscally irresponsible.
“Embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary because adult stem cell and umbilical cord blood treatments are ethical and successful alternatives that are already treating human disease and suffering,” states background material the conference provided for participants.
The conference also supports additional assistance for low-income working families in such areas as child care, housing, education and training, transportation, and health-care coverage to help families transition from welfare to work. Citing the program’s past success, it also supports expanding the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to help working families.
Expanding access to health care, including coverage for uninsured children, also is a conference priority. The conference advocates a simplified recertification process for publicly sponsored health-insurance programs to help low-income people continue to receive coverage.
The conference also supports increased funding for educational and vocational programs for the incarcerated; added treatment programs as alternatives to prison; and additional transition, rehabilitative and re-integration programs for ex-offenders. CFC will be sending members of its recovery programs to speak from experience about the recovery process, Mich said.
Catholics also will lobby March 13 for tougher penalties for those who take part in human trafficking and those who exploit women and children for cheap labor and sex. The conference is calling for added social services and immigration assistance for these victims.
Another issue that Catholics will be discussing at Public Policy Day is the right of religious organizations to operate and provide services in accordance with their institutional consciences. Recent health-care reforms that were put in place in January threaten to force religious health and human-service providers to offer services that violate their religious teachings. The conference said it aims to ensure that Catholic health-care organizations are not required to provide or pay for abortions or other procedures that are contrary to their mission.
The trip to Albany also will serve as an opportunity to deliver petitions signed by hundreds of parishioners from across the Diocese of Rochester, calling for added investment in quality child care, early education and services for children at risk.
As a small parish, St. Mary of the Assumption in Scottsville is just getting into advocacy, said Pastoral Administrator Irene Goodwin. However, more than 200 of its parishioners recently signed the petitions on behalf of children.
“We want to say to lawmakers that this is important to us,” said Goodwin, who plans to attend the Albany event.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Buses transporting people from the Diocese of Rochester to Public Policy Day are full, but those with transportation to Albany still are encouraged to register to attend the event. Contact your local Catholic Charities office or visit www.nyscatholic.org for details on the event or on the issues.