ALBANY — If school parents want to see New York state enact education tax credits this year, they need to call their state legislators this week and tell them to do so, according to leaders of the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops on matters of public policy.
In his state budget address in January, Gov. George Pataki announced that he would include in his executive budget a $500-per-child education tax credit for families earning up to $75,000 a year who reside in low-performing public-school districts. The credit could be used by families to offset such educational expenses as tutoring, summer instruction and other supplementary instruction, as well as tuition at religious or independent schools. With the April 1 state budget deadline looming, Catholic leaders, including Bishop Matthew H. Clark, stressed the urgency of the tax-credit issue during the Catholic conference’s annual Public Policy Day at the state capitol March 14.
Following a meeting between several of the state’s bishops, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York and Pataki’s senior aides, Bishop Clark said the governor’s staff made it clear that voters supporting education tax credits need to keep the pressure on their legislators. That point was seconded by Kathleen Gallagher, director of the 40,000-member Catholic Advocacy Network, whose members write legislators on bills important to the conference. Information on the network may be obtained at www.nyscatholic.org. Gallagher urged Catholics who support education tax credits to make their opinions known to legislators.
“It’s now or never,” she said.
About 100 representatives of the Diocese of Rochester joined hundreds of Catholics from across the state March 14 to lobby legislators on such issues as education tax credits, embryonic and adult stem-cell research, health insurance and health care, and the state’s drug laws. Tax credits and stem-cell research were the hot-button issues, according to a number of Catholics who lobbied state leaders that day.
The conference supports not only Pataki’s tax-credit proposal but a number of others as well. It also supports bills S.1939-A in the Senate and A.8203-A in the Assembly, which would give school parents tax credits for education expenses, as well as bills S.3101-B and A.6145-B, which give credits to corporate and individual donors who fund schools and scholarships. Meanwhile, there are other proposals by both the Senate and Assembly to give unrestricted tax credits to school families.
Even Democrats, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, have warmed to the tax-credit issue, according to Dennis Poust, Catholic conference spokesman. Although the Democratic Party has generally opposed tax credits that may benefit nonpublic-school parents, many minority Democratic voters have children attending nonpublic schools, he said, and Democrats are realizing that their own base supports education tax credits. Poust added that the tax-credit proposals being floated by state leaders benefit both public- and nonpublic-school families.
“With education tax credits, an estimated 80 percent of the benefit goes to public-school parents,” Poust said.
Church representatives also made clear to state leaders their opposition to human cloning and the harvesting of stem cells from human embryos, which are killed in the process. The conference stressed that it does support state funding of adult stem-cell use, since these stem cells can be harvested without violating church teaching on the sanctity of human life. Church leaders noted that adult stem cells have been successfully used to treat diseases, whereas embryonic stem cells have not. The Catholic Advocacy Network has urged members to oppose proposed funding of embryonic stem-cell research in the Assembly’s state budget, A.10257.
The conference supports Senate bill S.2400 and Assembly bill A.4855, which ban cloning, and opposes A.6300-A and S.5714-A, which finance cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. The conference also supports A.457-A and the Senate-passed bill S.5999, which promote umbilical-cord blood stem-cell research and therapies.
Father Brian Cool, who heads the Rochester Diocese’s Public Policy Committee, noted that 14,000 diocesan Catholics recently signed petitions urging legislators to promote adult stem-cell research and prohibit embryonic stem-cell research. Ethically acceptable stem-cell research is this year’s parish-based public-policy advocacy goal, and the petitions were delivered to state legislators.
Father Cool, along with 16-year-old Abe Moll and 17-year-olds Kyle Edwards and Sean Clancy of St. Mary’s of the Lake Parish in Ontario, advocated for the church’s position during a meeting with Eileen Collins, legislative assistant to Assemblyman Joseph A. Errigo, whose 130th District includes portions of Monroe, Ontario and Livingston counties. Father Cool expressed gratitude to Errigo for his opposition to embryonic research.
“I oppose it because it’s the destruction of life and, as a Catholic, I don’t think it’s right,” Kyle said.
Collins noted that many in the scientific and medical community oppose the church’s position, but Father Cool said that the scientific community needs to consider the moral qualms surrounding embryonic stem-cell research lest the door be opened to experimentation on human subjects.
On a related note, both Poust and Gallagher said the state should become a leader in adult stem-cell research.
“It’s noncontroversial, and it’s been successful,” Poust said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the coming weeks, the Catholic Courier will publish articles on the various issues discussed at Public Policy Day.