What are the fiscal implications for moving the 2012 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) from Phoenix, in response to a call for a boycott of the state of Arizona in response to SB1070, the law that allows
harassment of anyone who’s not white state and local police to demand proof of citizenship status? If General Assembly is moved from Phoenix, the current contract calls for cancelation fees which have been variously reported at $600,000 to $650,000. In addition to paying those fees, a new location for General Assembly will likely result in higher cost because we are not planning far enough in advance. Let’s lay out some possible ways to come up with this money, from a fiscal conservative’s point of view.
The true fiscal conservative looks at both sides of the ledger. Starting on the expense side, where could we cut costs to come up with part of this money? The most logical place to cut costs is in the budget for the 2012 General Assembly. If the 2012 General Assembly were to include only those business matters required by the bylaws, I believe the schedule could be reduced to a single day. By cutting out workshops, worship services, lectures, and the like, non-delegates would not attend, reducing the space needed for General Assembly. It would also make sense to hold the meeting within driving distance of Boston to allow UUA staff to cut travel costs, while needing no expenses for overnight lodging for staffers. Total cost for the new location would then be reduced substantially.
Aside from that, I would be extremely unwilling to cut costs out of other denominational programs. The past two fiscal years have seen layoffs and staff cuts. Departments have been cut (e.g., the Washington office for advocacy), or merged to save money (e.g., the office for identity-based ministries no longer has an independent existence). An unanticipated expense of $650,000 would likely result in additional layoffs of at least half a dozen more UUA staffers. And there is no fat left to cut from the UUA budget — we’d be cutting muscle and bone.
Now let’s turn to the revenue side. Paying for this boycott offers an opportunity for concerned Unitarian Universalists to live out their ethical values by increasing their financial giving above their current contributions to local congregation and the UUA Annual Fund. It makes sense to set up a fund, managed either by an independent 501(c)3 or by the UUA (although there are staff costs to managing an additional fund), where concerned individuals and congregations would have the opportunity to contribute to directly offset the cost of moving GA. Given that Unitarian Universalists have the second rate of giving to their religion, as a percentage of annual income (at 1.5% of annual income, second only to Catholics), there is plenty of room for Unitarian Universalists to raise their giving to the denomination.
I’d like to see the following challenge issued to Unitarian Universalists:– For Unitarian Universalists who currently give less than 5% of their annual income to their faith, I’d like to see them give an additional 1-2% of their income to the fund for moving General Assembly. Those who are currently giving 5-10% of their annual income to their faith could give an additional 0.5% of their income to this fund. Those who give on the basis of their total wealth rather than income (because their wealth is larger than income) could give an amount of between 10%-100% more than their current contribution to their faith, depending on how much or how little they’re currently giving. Obviously, one would start by looking for big donors; individual contributors take a lot of work. I will add that if such a fund is set up, I’m prepared to write a check for 0.5% of my annual income (since I currently give 5% of my income to my church). I will also add that such a fund drive might have larger positive implications, in the way that a capital campaign in a local congregation often winds up boosting regular giving.
From a fiscal conservative’s point of view, boycotts come with financial implications; they are not free. Think of the Montgomery bus boycott, which required working people to deal with a much more difficult commute; their lost time was worth a great deal to them. Think also of the time when some Unitarian Universalist congregations pulled their assets out of companies doing business in South Africa, and then had to deal with decreased investment income, which they made up through cutting expenses and trying to increase donations (and, I might add, fiscal conservatives were some of the heros and heroines of that movement, since they were the ones who figured out how to make that boycott happen through cutting expenses and increasing donations).
The above discussion purposefully avoids the question of whether the boycott of Arizona is the right thing to do. But the larger question of whether or not the boycott of Arizona is the right thing to do cannot avoid the question of how to deal with the financial implications of that boycott; those who object to the boycott will most certainly raise that point. Personally, I know I have very little patience with those on either side of the issue who aren’t looking realistically at the financial implications; in order to win the votes of people like me, the fiscal implications must be addressed (N.B.: I’m not going to General Assembly this year, so my opinion is essentially meaningless).
Presumably, those who advocate the boycott are already considering this point as they plan their strategy for the inevitable floor fight at the 2010 General Assembly. If I were advocating for the boycott at the 2010 General Assembly, I would already be working on fundraising, knowing that if I could make an opening statement saying that I had raised, say, $100,000 towards the added expense, I’d probably win.