Today is Public Policy Forum Day, sponsored by the New York State Catholic Conference, and the second of two days that I am spending in our state capital, Albany, New York. I’ve enjoyed getting to meet many of the leaders of our state government, and having the opportunity to discuss with them some of the issues that we believe are of critical importance to the state. We expect about two thousand Catholics from all around the state, many of them young people, to join us in sharing our concerns with our elected officials.
One of the highlights of Monday was joining with my brother bishops of the state for a meeting with Governor David Paterson. Many reporters stopped me during the day to ask for my thoughts on the difficulties currently facing the Governor; I was pleased to be able to tell the Governor at the very beginning of our meeting that while we bishops were there to discuss some very serious public policy issues, we were, first and foremost, pastors, and wanted him to know of our prayers for him. He seemed genuinely grateful.
We were happy that the Governor was willing to reexamine the issues related to our Catholic schools. A full explanation of the education issues can be found here. He acknowledged that the State did owe Catholic and other religious and private schools reimbursement for what are known as mandated services and that he took that obligation seriously. The Governor also said that he would look again at the MTA payroll tax; he seemed persuaded when we pointed out that if public schools were entitled to a reimbursement of the cost of the payroll tax, then justice and fairness would demand that religious and other private schools be treated the same.
The Governor was also very properly concerned over the enormous fiscal pressures currently facing our state; we bishops, who are all facing the same pressures in our dioceses, could certainly relate. While we presented several concrete proposals to him, our underlying message for each of them was the same: during tough economic times, we must do all that we can to make certain that the poor and vulnerable among us are protected. We must not let the fiscal problems of the state further hurt those who are already suffering. I believe the Governor shares our concern.
One other highlight from last night. I had the pleasure of attending the annual Irish Legislators Dinner, and I told those who were present of my admiration for them and the work that they do. Public service, I said, is a noble profession, but there always seems to be those who seek to drag down those in public life (some deservedly so). Two qualities are hallmarks of the Irish people: Hope and helping others.
I urged our public officials, hundreds of them there, not to lose hope, even in tough times, a period of real crisis here in Albany. The green of Saint Patrick’s Day, I observed, symbolizes hope, the rebirth of spring, the triumph of life over death. Don’t lose hope, I exhorted them.
And, finally, I complimented our politicians for entering a profession to help people, that second Irish trait. Yes, I admitted, politicians are under attack, reputations bloodied by the scandalous behavior of a few. But politics, I assured them, is a noble profession, with helping others as the goal, and honor and honesty as the virtues needed. And the great majority of them are true helpers of people, who work hard on our behalf. We thank them.
Photo by Nate Whitchurch