De Blasio Won’t Budge on Pre-K Plan Despite Cuomo’s Proposal

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio stood alongside more than a dozen union leaders at an early learning center in Harlem Monday morning. The union leaders, representing some 1.3 million workers, announced their support for the mayor’s plan to raise taxes on wealthy New York City residents to fund prekindergarten for all city children.

Meanwhile, at the state Capitol in Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke with the chamber commerce officials. A banner posted on the blue cloth draped over his table read “Cutting Taxes for New Yorkers.”

The well-timed events struck an odd chord, especially given a Capital New York report the night before about Cuomo’s plan for universal statewide pre-K, without the tax increase championed by de Blasio. Despite their stated friendship and mutual respect, the two men seemed at odds over how to reach a similar goal. 

De Blasio needs approval from Albany to raise taxes on city residents. He disagreed loudly that the state plan could achieve his pre-K goal, saying that there is no guarantee either of dedicated funding for pre-K or that the state Legislature won’t change course midway.

“When the budget cuts come, children are often the first to take the hit,” de Blasio said. “The vulnerable take the hit. There is a rich, painful history of this.”

Roughly two-thirds of New Yorkers support de Blasio’s plan, according to a November Quinnipiac University poll. In a December Siena College poll, 72 percent of respondents supported a plan for universal pre-K, but when asked if they would be willing to pay taxes for the plan, only 49 percent agreed.

Cuomo would not comment on a plan to fund universal pre-K statewide and did not confirm if he would discuss it at his State of the State speech Wednesday, which de Blasio plans to attend. Cuomo has supported universal pre-K since his first year in office.

“There is a two step process in government and in life. First decide what you want to do and, step two, decide how you’re going to do it,” Cuomo said at the state Capitol Monday. “I think we’re on step one, which is I am in agreement with the mayor that pre-K is the direction this state has to head.”

De Blasio reiterated Cuomo’s point, saying that the two agree on the need for universal pre-K, but have not come to agree on how to pay for it. Cuomo would probably be averse to any plan that raises taxes, since it would make for great fodder for negative campaign ads in an election year. De Blasio believes that the city should have the ability to tax itself, especially given the support for universal pre-K among the population.

“It is an economic justice question,” de Blasio said. “We are at the high watermark of human history in terms of the importance of education for one’s economic destiny.”

The state Assembly has pushed for universal pre-K since the 1990s under Gov. George Pataki. Senate co-majority leader Jeffrey Klein, a Democrat, supports de Blasio’s plan. Senate Republicans support the idea of universal pre-K, but would not raise taxes to pay for it.

Big Labor Support

De Blasio gathered a formidable labor coalition to back his pre-K plan. At the Union Johnson Learning Center in Harlem he sat down with leaders of: the United Federation of Teachers, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, 32BJ SEIU, and the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, among others.

The labor leadership joins a broader coalition of 35 organizations and prominent New Yorkers.

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