Monday, February 10, 2014

NY State Campaign for Tax-Funded Religious Ed

In January, an article in the Westchester, N.Y.  Journal News reported that a set of very rich men have so far allocated more than $4.7 million dollars to promote S4099A, the Education Investment Incentives Act, a N.Y. Senate tuition tax credit bill.

They have bankrolled a foundation and its political action committee (PAC), contributed to the election campaigns of more than 100 state legislators, funded well-publicized rallies of private-school students, and put five lobbying firms on retainer.

When a reporter for the Journal News called the foundation, he was referred to James Cultrara, director of education for the N.Y. State Catholic Conference. The Catholic Conference represents the state’s Catholic bishops in matters of public policy. The reporter asked Cultrara about campaign contributions by the foundation’s PAC.

Cultrara responded, “We decided that this time around, not participating at that level was a tremendous disadvantage, and we weren’t going to take a chance. Lawmakers clearly have to run for re-election. It’s not free. Just like countless other PACs, we felt it was necessary to participate at that level.”

Under S4099A, N.Y. taxpayers would collect 100% credits against their state income tax BILLS for donations to scholarship organizations. The organizations would send the donors’ money to schools, including religious ones, for the tuition of children who meet the schools’ requirements. In states that have such programs, nearly all the scholarship money goes to religious schools.

The tax credits would not be the familiar charitable deduction from income before taxes. The state would pay all, not part of the donation. In effect, N.Y. State would direct the income tax payments of donors to sectarian schools.

The Act forbids public officials to regulate the schools it funds.

It includes some exceptions that limit the benefits of the credits. In any one year, a taxpayer can’t take the credit for more than 75% of his or her tax bill. The bill caps total credits for gifts to nonpublic-school scholarships at $1.5 million a year. If credits exceed $1.5 million before the state registers a particular donor’s tax return, he or she can subtract the donated money from a future year’s tax payment, for up to five years.

The Act offers a sweetener for public schools. Donors to public school districts can also claim the tax credits, up to $1.5 million a year. That is, N.Y. State would grant its richest residents the opportunity to distribute an extra $1.5 million per year in state aid to their own public school districts. The legislature can surely find a fairer way to distribute an additional $1.5 million to the state’s public schools.

The legislation probably violates Article XI, Section 3, of the N.Y. Constitution, which explicitly forbids the use of state credit, even indirectly, in aid or maintenance of religious schools.

The Act has no Assembly companion, but it differs little from the Assembly bill, A1826B.

If you would like to tell your N.Y. State senators what you think of S4099A, here is a sample, basic letter.

Dear Senator——,

Please oppose S4099A, the Education Investment Incentives Act, which would provide tax-raised funds for nonpublic schools, including religious ones, by means of donor credits against the State income tax BILL.

You can address all N.Y. State Senators at: N.Y. State Senate, Albany NY 12247.

To Identify Your N.Y. State Senator

If you have no access to a computer, you can call your county Board of Elections.

If you have access to a computer, you can take the following steps to learn the name of your state senator.

1. Google N.Y. State Senate.

2. Click Senators.

3. You will see on the screen’s upper left a dialogue box headed Find My Senator. Fill in the blanks and click submit.

4. You will see a screen with your senator’s name and a space where you can write or paste your message.

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