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Moral Mondays Come to Albany: Morality Meet Cuomo's Budget

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The Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina has performed a slight miracle. They have successfully argued that morality has something to do with money. Through the extraordinary leadership of the Reverend Barber, they have worn zip codes on their T-shirts, marched weekly on their governor and state legislature, and figured how to convince the biblically belted state of North Carolina that a few people can't hoard all the money or the power. The current North Carolina legislature doesn't have a chance of keeping their stingy seats. Moral fervor has created political success.

What is moral fervor? It is being fed up, instead of fed, by a few having way too much and the many having way too little. Seventy percent of what Jesus said in the bible agrees. The bible is a moral document about the economy. Blessed are the poor. How does the rich man stay rich? He gives away what is in his barns. If you have a loaf or a fish, share it and it multiplies to feed thousands. Morality is often confused as a finger wagging self-righteousness. Morality instead is a dream, a hope, a deep sense of how things are supposed to be. Both the many and the few are to eat. God's time comes when there is income equality and nobody's child goes to sleep bored while another's child goes to sleep hungry. This giant dream and destination matter in New York State as much as in Raleigh.

New York State may not have a legislature as mean as North Carolina's. And we may, blessedly, have less of a bible as a belt. We may also have a strong secular or "none of the above" population. What worked in North Carolina may not work here. On the other hand, many religious leaders in New York are spiritually tired of the lie that there isn't enough. Even those who are "none of the above," join Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs in knowing that poverty is not God's intention. The same spiritual coalition understands that income equality is right as well as the best way to build a broken economy. Income equality is deeply practical and even more moral than practical.

Governor Cuomo is a Christian. He has read his bible and eaten the bread of the mass, which is a sign that all will be fed and deserve to be fed. Governor Cuomo's budget is pre-Christian. It is not anti-religious so much as pro-rich in an anti-religious way. It gives way too much to those who already have -- in estate taxes and bank fees -- and way too little to those already burdened. St. Paul argued that the sins of omission were as serious as the sins of commission.

We need not vilify the rich to aid the poor. No one needs any more moral vilification. Instead the newly formed coalition of "Moral Mondays in New York" will address the state budget hearings on Monday and say that the budget is sinful. Sin is missing the mark of our true humanity. Sin is being distant from God and creation's intention. Sin is "incuvatus in se" being curved in on yourself in a frightful and fearful way. The rich suffer moral poverty when they protect their money while crushing the face of the poor. This budget has a serious moral poverty, is sinful and crushes the face of the poor.

In particular, the banks and already rich are getting too much out of it. Both the state and the city could choose other forms of financial management than paying interest to banks. They could gladly tax the rich more in order to bring in the magnificence of God's intended creation.

The Cuomo budget proposal has more than $2 billion in new tax cuts, overwhelmingly targeted to the wealthy and big corporations. A billion dollars a year in tax breaks will go to millionaires, billionaires and Wall Street: a $750 million a year reduction in inheritance taxes, and a $350 million tax break from elimination of New York's dedicated Bank Tax. Changes in property taxes include a "freeze" mechanism that will deliver most of the benefits to the wealthiest 10 percent of homeowners. It does not include reforms to corporate subsidy programs, which now amount to over $7 billion per year statewide. These are sins of commission and sins of omission. They are morally shocking. His Holiness Pope Francis has recently characterized such trickle-downs, as "a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power."

We don't want just morality on Mondays in New York. We want morality. This budget proposal misses that mark.