Budget

City Hires Ethicist for Hard Choices

Like many U.S. municipalities, Alexandria, Virginia, is facing financial cuts. But in an unusual move, city officials hired ethicist Michael A. Gillette to assist them in approaching the city’s budget as a moral document. “In times of fiscal stress, localities are forced to say ‘no’ to some programs that do good work for people in need. The judgments made around these types of decisions are just as much ethical as they are financial or political,” Gillette, president of Bioethical Services of Virginia Inc., told Sojourners.

Examples of the difficult decisions faced by Alexandria policymakers, reported The Washington Post, are whether to convert apartments built for the mentally ill into temporary housing for the disabled, and cutting back drug-prevention funds but maintaining methadone availability. “By carefully cataloguing and prioritizing ethical values such as prior commitments, severity of need, efficiency, and effectiveness,” Gillette said, “we can develop a clear ethical picture of the obligations that an organization or local governing body has to its constituents. This is the beginning of sound moral reasoning, and I am hopeful that other localities will engage in similar discussions.”

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Sojourners Magazine March 2009
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Compassionate Priorities

In January 2005, Sojourners and Call to Renewal began a campaign to tell our political leaders that “budgets are moral documents” that reflect the values and priorities of a family, church, organization, city, state, or nation. A budget tells us who and what are most valued by those making it. Who benefits and who suffers, who wins and who loses, what things are revealed as most or least important? We said that the question all of America’s religious communities must ask of any budget is what happens to the poor and most vulnerable—especially what becomes of the nation’s poorest children in these critical decisions.

We concluded that the administration’s proposed budget was morally unacceptable. It projected a record deficit, promised to make tax cuts benefiting the wealthiest permanent, and made cuts in vital programs and services for low-income people. We said a budget that scapegoats the poor and further benefits the rich—that asks for sacrifice mostly from those who can least afford it—was a moral offense.

Before long, that language and the phrase itself were picked up and used by political leaders and the media, with headlines such as “One More ‘Moral Value’: Fighting Poverty.” Clearly, the influence of the faith community was being felt. Words like “Christian” and “religious groups” were now associated with words like “poverty,” “low-income families,” and “economic justice,” instead of just “abortion” and “gay marriage.” The issue of poverty was also a unifying and galvanizing issue in my national book tour last spring. Poverty’s moral and political urgency was seen by many as the natural outcome of faith.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2006
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Pittsburgh: A City Has Its Limits

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2002
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