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250 NYC Congregations Back Letter at City Hall Rally Calling on Cuomo, Legislature to End Plan to Slash Education, Give Tax Break to Millionaires

March 17, 2011

(March 17, 2011 – New York, NY) – More than 50 faith leaders and clergy representing more than 250 New York City congregations released a letter to Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders today calling “immoral” his plan to “transfer $4.6 billion dollars from essential public services back into the pockets of the richest New Yorkers.”

Lawmakers and education advocates joined them today at City Hall to echo the call to restore $1.5 billion in state education funding cuts, and demanding Cuomo and the legislature follow the broad majority of New Yorkers who support the current progressive tax under which New York’s wealthiest pay a fair share.

“All of our faith traditions call for a society that cares for the most vulnerable in its midst,” said Rabbi Michael Feinberg of the Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition.  “As religious leaders we denounce cuts to essential human services, and decry as unethical efforts to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.”

“Eliminating programs that provide services to children living in poverty is a disgrace,” said Imam Souleimane Konate of Masjid Aqsa. “We believe that supports must be provided for those family members and communities who are caring for these children.  In the Islamic faith it is said, ‘The Best among you is he who has learned and teaches others.’  What lessons are Gov. Cuomo teaching by not extending the Millionaire’s Tax?  Where are his priorities?”

“As religious leaders we believe the governor’s plan to balance the state’s budget by reducing educational funding while protecting millionaires is unconscionable,” said Bishop Orlando Findlayter of Churches to Save and Heal.  “We urge our legislators to stand with our children and oppose this detrimental budget.”

“I stand in solidarity with the poor and suffering seniors and youth on the issue of unfair budget cuts,” said Harlem pastor Rev. Vernon B. Williams.  “It is time the rich shared in our state crisis by extending tax measures and other taxation methods that will help the great society and not just the rich.”

“The sum total of Jewish tradition insists that workers be paid on time and adequately, and that they be treated with dignity,” said Rabbi Ellen Lippmann.  “Gov. Cuomo’s intention to let lapse the so-called ‘Millionaire’s Tax’ places an unjust and morally unacceptable burden on New York’s workers by asking them to shoulder a $4.6 billion burden that can sit lightly on the shoulders of the millionaires.”

“Gov. Cuomo says budgets are management documents.  We say budgets are moral documents,” said NY Faith & Justice Executive Director Lisa Harper.  “They reveal the heart—what and who we value and what and who we don’t.  If Cuomo’s budget passes, history will look back on this generation of New Yorkers and will hear us saying: ‘We do not value children!’  We will say to history: ‘We do not value the sick!’  We will say to history: ‘We do not value workers and we do not value the poor!’  If we pass Cuomo’s budget, we will declare to history with no ifs, ands, or buts: ‘We value millionaires. Period.’  This is not who we are.  We’re better than that.”

“When the Governor and State legislature support extending the Millionaire’s Tax, that is when our government can begin to balance the budget,” said Pastor Robert Waterman of Antioch Baptist Church.  “Matthew 17:27 says ‘Then the sons are exempt, Jesus said to him.  But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line.  Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin.  Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.’  Everyone must be willing to pay their fair share.”

Parents demanded that the final state budget also include a larger restoration of Cuomo’s education cuts than either the State Assembly or Senate has proposed.

“The governor’s plan to take from schoolchildren and low-income communities of color by giving to the rich is both irresponsible and unacceptable,” said Alliance for Quality Education and Coalition for Educational Justice organizer Zakiyah Ansari, a New York City school parent.  “Opinion polls and thousands of New Yorkers protesting at dozens of actions across the state have moved the legislature to push back on Cuomo’s unjust budget, but there is still a lot of work to do to restore his dangerous education cuts.  The Assembly’s plan rightly continues with a fairer tax code, but restores a mere $200 million of the governor’s cuts.  The Senate leadership’s proposal fails to tax the wealthiest New Yorkers at a fair rate, restores only $263 million of the cuts, and grossly shortchanges New York City.”

Cuomo’s proposed tax cut for millionaires would cost New Yorkers $4.6 billion this coming fiscal year, including $565 million that would be taken away from the City’s schoolchildren.  Recent polls show two out of three New Yorkers support extending the Millionaire’s Tax, while the same number oppose state cuts to local school aid.  Just this past weekend, the State Assembly majority also announced its support for extending the current progressive tax system to halt education cuts.  The State Senate also moved closer to support for the tax, with the majority of Senate Democrats and at least one Republican member calling for the fairer code.

In order to protect City residents and students from these destructive and unnecessary cuts, and to keep our current education crisis from turning in to a disaster lawmakers also spoke out at the City Hall rally.

“During the tough times, those who feel the pinch are those who are on fixed incomes – single mothers and those receiving public assistance – because it is their programs that are being cut,” said New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras.  “These cuts set back many families and individuals who are trying to survive and get off the public roles.  In the long-run these cuts cost taxpayers more.  Extending the Millionaire’s Tax will help ease some of the pain until we rebound from the recession.  Is it too much to ask that fewer than the wealthiest one percent pay their fair share during these tough times?  Their fair share is an investment in the future economic prosperity of this great City and State.”

“The proposed state budget would be the largest transfer of wealth from the state’s poorest to the state’s richest in New York’s history,” said City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson.  “At a time when low-income communities of color are already reeling from job and budget cuts, it would be absolutely devastating to our state’s and our city’s most vulnerable to abandon them now.  What is truly unforgivable, however, is that Gov. Cuomo and the legislature intend to balance their budget on the backs of schoolchildren.  We cannot afford to deprive the next generation of quality education—that is surely the fastest way to undermine the economic future of New York.”

“In a time of fiscal and economic crisis, can we really afford to give a tax cut to millionaires?” asked Council Member Brad Lander.  “If we decide that this is a good time to give a tax break to fewer than the wealthiest one percent of households, then we are all responsible for the devastating cuts to schools, seniors and families.”

“I am in total support of extending the Millionaire’s Tax because we should never balance the budget on the backs of poor people,” said Council Member Larry Seabrook.  “There are a lot of wealthy people in New York and it is not right that working families, senior citizens and people living on fixed incomes should bear the brunt of taxes.  Everyone should pay their fair share.”

Two more rallies – one hosted by Borough President Marty Markowitz at Brooklyn Borough Hall, and another hosted by Assemblymembers and Deputy Borough President Aurelia Greene at Hostos Community College in the Bronx – will take place later today.  The rallies were also organized by the Alliance for Quality Education, the Coalition for Educational Justice, New York Communities for Change and other groups.  Details are below.

Thursday, March 17 NYC Day of Action for Education – EVENTS

BROOKLYN BOROUGH HALL (6:30 PM)

WHEN:    Thursday, March 17 – 6:30 PM

WHERE:    Brooklyn Borough Hall, Courtroom – Brooklyn

WHO:        Borough President Marty Markowitz; parents from City schools; members of New York Communities for Change, the Coalition for Educational Justice, New York Charter Parents Association, Alliance for Quality Education and other groups.

 

HOSTOS COMMUNITY COLLEGE, THE BRONX (6:30 PM)

WHEN:    Thursday, March 17 – 6:30 PM

WHERE:    Hostos Community College – 120 E. 149th at Walton (Savoy building)

WHO:        Assemblymembers Vanessa Gibson and Eric Stevenson; Bronx Deputy Borough President Aurelia Greene; parents from City schools; members of New York Communities for Change, the Coalition for Educational Justice, United Parents of Highbridge, NSA Parent Action Committee, Alliance for Quality Education and other groups.

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