Faith, Labor Leaders Ask Pols To Focus On Morals
Community, faith and labor groups took advantage of the silence at the state Capitol Monday to hold a brief vigil to call for state politicians to concentrate on passing what they say is morally sound legislation this year.
The “Moral Monday” vigil comes two days before the state Senate and Assembly will convene for the first time this year. Those gathered outside the Senate Chamber didn’t call for anything they haven’t already; rather, they placed the emphasis on the morality of raising the minimum wage, upping public school funding and assisting non-wealthy New Yorkers.
“This year, this group is calling on our legislators to start paying attention and start listening to the people of New York who need them to create good jobs, institute systems of fair taxation and invest in public education and a social safety net,” Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State Executive Director Sara Niccoli said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inauguration day speech struck a similar chord. Though he left morality out of it, he did go into the inequality facing both New York and the nation and specifically called for the need for a minimum wage that doesn’t make workers choose between paying for rent or buying food. He also said chronic high poverty rates in the state’s largest cities and the upstate economy must be addressed.
“The offer of fairness and opportunity that was the American compact is now in doubt,” Cuomo said. “Americans are disheartened and disappointed by the economic climate, and rightly so. We are told the recession is over. We read reports that say the economic numbers are going up, up and up. But we work harder and we earn less.
“Income inequality is at the highest point in over a century,” he continued. “While American capitalism never guaranteed success, it did guarantee opportunity. And too many Americans are questioning the long-held belief that their children’s future will be better than their own. For too many the dream of economic mobility has been replaced with the nightmare of economic stagnation.”
Hunger Action Network of New York State Executive Director Mark Dunlea repeated what Cuomo’s father, the late-Mario Cuomo, had to say about inequality in his famous 1984 Democratic National Convention speech. Dunlea said the elder Cuomo never once blamed the poor for their economic status during his time and that he hopes the younger Cuomo can provide leadership on the issue as his father did.
Still, in Albany three dance partners must be in step. While Cuomo carries considerable political weight, anything he wants must also be agreed upon by the Assembly and Senate. A Democratic majority in the Assembly makes progressive legislation easier to pass, but the Republican-controlled Senate could prove to be a serious roadblock on some issues.
Take the minimum wage, which rose to $8.75 per hour last week. Those at Monday’s vigil called for a $15 per hour minimum wage, often called a living wage. Cuomo hasn’t placed a number on what he’d like to see. But Senate Republicans scoffed in November at talk of trading a pay raise for legislation that boosts the wage after agreeing to steps up to $9 by next year in 2013.
(Cuomo ended up asking for ethics reforms, but legislators never reached a deal with him before the year ended.)
Whether they would trade something else remains to be seen. But As Cuomo put it when talking about the ethics reforms he wanted: “The Legislature wants the pay raise as much as they’ve wanted anything. Even for the pay raise, they’re not willing to do public finance, and they’re not willing to do significant campaign finance reform. I can tell you this: If they’re not willing to do it for a pay raise, they weren’t going to do it for anything else.”
“The politics of this year are going to be much different than last year,” Niccoli said after the vigil. “I don’t know so much that Cuomo’s position has changed as much as the realities of passage have changed.”