Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio agree on the need for universal pre-kindergarten, but the remain sharply divided over how to fund it.
In his budget address on Tuesday afternoon, Cuomo unveiled a five-year, $1.5 billion pre-K proposal, with $100 million for the 2014-15 school year and at least $100 million to be added in each subsequent year.
“The state will pay for it, and the state will be proud to pay for it,” Cuomo asserted during his speech. “It’s a priority. We believe in children. We believe in pre-K. We believe in education.”
Yet de Blasio has continued to insist that the city should fund the expansion through a tax increase on its wealthiest residents, a key element of his successful mayoral campaign last fall. Cuomo and state lawmakers would have to grant de Blasio permission to raise taxes.
The latest chapter in the standoff between Cuomo and de Blasio over how best to fund the mayor’s signature universal preschool proposal began earlier in the day, with de Blasio refusing to blink. During a morning press conference, de Blasio was asked about Cuomo’s proposal to establish universal preschool statewide in his executive budget. The mayor called the idea “commendable” before reiterating that his plan would be paid for by a tax increase on New York City residents who earn more than $500,000.
“I commend the [governor's] preschool proposal and commend the philosophy behind it, because it’s an important step forward,” de Blasio said. “We want to make sure that our efforts in early childhood education and after-school are secure and reliable over five years. We think it’s fair and appropriate to ask those in New York City who have done well to pay a little more. We have a revenue source available that is reliable, and we believe that the matter of the rights of this city, from our home-rule rights to our rights of self-determination, we should be able to proceed with that to create the programs that people in the city voted for, and do it on a reliable basis.”
De Blasio added that while he had not seen a formal presentation of the governor’s proposal, the two teams are “speaking constantly.” He also repeatedly stated that voters gave him a “mandate” when he won the mayoral election handily, and remarked on his “mission” to make this program a reality. The mayor did not take the bait when a reporter asked him whether he would refuse funding for the program through the state budget in lieu of the tax hike he wants.
“I think the jury is in, the people believe in this idea, they want it and they want it to actually happen, which means the funding source has to be reliable,” de Blasio said. “I think of it in terms of following through on a commitment I made to the people of New York City that they ratified, with great energy and with a huge majority, it’s my obligation to continue to work to make that happen.”
During his budget address, Cuomo did not credit de Blasio for moving the needle on the universal preschool issue, instead pointing out that he called for the pre-K expansion in his State of the State address a year ago.
The state budget director, Robert Megna, said that under the governor’s plan, $300 million would be available over the next two years for those school districts that need it first. De Blasio’s projections call for more than $500 million in new tax revenue per year, with $340 million for pre-K in New York City alone, but Megna said de Blasio’s plan would likely have to be phased in, rather than increasing spending by hundreds of millions all at once.
“Even with the tax increase, the tax increase wouldn’t bring in money on day 1 either,” Megna said. “Our view is this provides incremental funding that can fully fund those programs for localities that come forth with reasonable plans not for baby-sitting, as the governor said, but for real pre-K.”