Budgets reflect values. It’s easy, and often empty, to declare solidarity with a cause or compassion towards the suffering. It’s the sacrifices we make — of time, of money, of energy — that show where our hearts really lie. When families set aside money to give to charity or their place of worship, when universities set aside money for financial aid, when cities set aside money to care for their neediest residents — these are the truest reflections of how deep our professed beliefs really run.
Last week, when Mayor Toni Harp released her proposed budget for the coming year, the big news was that — for the second straight year — there would be no new tax increases. This is a relief for local homeowners and small businesses, and reflects the mayor’s talent as a fiscal manager.
The lack of a tax hike rightfully got a lot of press, but the headlines said far less about what the budget actually did include. Even while holding the tax rate flat, the mayor increased funding for programs that benefit New Haven’s most vulnerable residents.
For example: A report last summer noted that adult illiteracy was a major barrier facing unemployed New Haveners; accordingly, Harp budgeted for three additional library staff, part of her initiative to make New Haven “the city that reads.”
Too many kids in New Haven’s public schools have health problems that go undiagnosed and untreated, sapping their focus and stifling their achievement, because most schools only have a nurse a few days each week. The new budget would hire seven additional full-time school nurses to serve Elm City kids.
And despite the considerable investments and progress this administration has already made in helping dozens of the city’s chronically homeless residents find housing, the mayor’s budget increased funding for homelessness services by a quarter of a million dollars.
I don’t mean to blow these decisions out of proportion. They aren’t monumental increases. Rather, they continue New Haven’s long tradition of compassion for youth, the elderly, the homeless and the poor. Furthermore, the Board of Alders still has to approve the budget, which could mean these figures change.
I don’t agree with everything in the proposed budget. The Mayor’s office, for instance, does not need three full-time receptionists.
But the fact remains that, when facing tough choices, Harp chose to prioritize school nurses, literacy and the homeless. Every resident of New Haven should be proud that those are the priorities our city has chosen. I certainly am.
But I wish I could be as proud of Yale’s priorities as I am of New Haven’s.
Buried deep in the budget, among countless sources of revenue, are the details for Yale’s financial contributions to the city. Yale makes a yearly voluntary contribution of around $8 million, slightly more than 1 percent of New Haven’s overall budget. This represents about 0.25 percent of Yale’s budget for the 2013–14 year, and around 0.03 percent of Yale’s massive endowment. It is dwarfed by the amounts Yale pays hedge fund managers to grow its pot of gold every year.
It’s not enough. Yale is the largest property owner in the city, even though it pays no taxes except on its small parcel of retail properties, and has an endowment of nearly $26 billion. Yale, its students and its professors are the economic “1 percent” of New Haven. Surely we should contribute far more than 1 percent of the city’s budget.
I’m not asking Yale to liquidate its endowment and shower money on New Haven. That would be ridiculous. I recognize that it’s difficult and expensive to run a university, and that Yale cannot fund every worthy cause. At the same time, it’s nonsense to pretend the reason we don’t provide more aid to New Haven is that all Yale’s money is being spent wisely on meaningful things like professor salaries, financial aid and research. There is tons of waste and ostentatious gluttony at Yale, and we should redirect that to fulfill our obligations to New Haven.
Let’s say Yale gave New Haven the $17 million it spent renovating President Peter Salovey’s mansion. That could have fully funded New Haven’s Youth@Work program, which provides part-time jobs for 750 teenagers per year, for the next 26 years.
What if we’d given the city half of President Richard Levin’s $8.5 million golden retirement parachute? New Haven could have hired 88 new school nurses, or 95 new librarians, or 62 new police officers this year.
As Yale makes its own budgetary choices, we should look hard at New Haven’s example. In her budget, Harp put her money where her mouth was. Yale should do the same.
Through voluntary contributions to New Haven we can make real commitments to the values of service, access and equity that we loftily profess.
Fish Stark is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .