On Tuesday, March 18, the bishops of New York met with the political leadership of New York State prior to the March 19 Public Policy Day when Catholics from around the state came to Albany to present their concerns as Catholics to their elected representatives.

The Tuesday meetings began with Senator Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre, the Senate Majority leader and president of that body.  Then we met with Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver and concluded with an hour discussing issues with Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Our major concern of the moment is the Education Tax Credit Bill.  This bill would allow a citizen or a business to take a tax credit for money contributed to foundations which provide scholarships and other aid to schools, both public and private. The budget would include an amount of money, say $300 million, which would be distributed half to public schools and half to private, including Catholic, schools.

This would enable citizen and businesses to contribute to groups like our Tomorrow’s Hope Foundation which annually gives up to $2 million to help parents pay the tuition for their children in Catholic elementary schools of our Diocese.

I am happy to say that all our State Senators are co-sponsors of this legislation which twice before has passed the State Senate.  I am also happy to say that most of our Long Island Assembly members are co-sponsors.  Unfortunately a few of them have stepped back because of pressure from a public school teachers’ union.

We bishops, along with a large number of unions including police and fire department unions and benevolent association, are standing strong to urge passage of the bill.

The Governor has told us that he is in favor of this.  The question is to what extent will he use his considerable influence to help make this a reality during the budget negotiations in these next ten days.  Speaker Silver has not said “No” but he has tried to argue that we should be satisfied with moneys for special projects like new technologies.

Senator Dean Skelos is the hero in all of this.  He is our strong and loyal friend who has done his best to make this happen.  In our meeting he pointed out that what is needed is our making our case as strongly as we can to both the Speaker and the Governor, but especially to the Governor.

This we did.  Cardinal Dolan, Brooklyn’s Bishop Di Marzio and I took turns making our case.  All the other bishops were as one with us. At one point the Governor asked us what would we prefer: the principle of tax credits for education or some more money for schools.  We all said “the principle.”  We also said the principle would still need the money.

Right now we need you, the good people of our Diocese, to tell your Assembly representative and your state senator how much you appreciate his/her support and vote in favor of this legislation.  Ask them to tell the Governor and Speaker Silver that they too should urge the Governor to stand with us in the budget negotiations.  And all of us owe once again a debt of gratitude to Senator Skelos.  Tell him how you appreciate his leadership.  We bishops will continue to do our part and all of us will continue to pray for the passage and the implementation of the Education Tax Credit Bill.