NYC Mayor Rallies Churches for Pre-K Fight

By Nicholas Zifcak, Epoch Times
February 12, 2014 Updated: February 12, 2014

NEW YORK—The day after state Sen. Dean Skelos said he would block a vote on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s prekindergarten proposal, de Blasio insisted the issue be voted on and rallied clergy Tuesday to push state senators to act.

De Blasio spoke to more than 200 clergy, including Rev. Al Sharpton, at a breakfast at Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn calling on them to mobilize their congregations.

“The gauntlet has been thrown down in Albany. We will respond,” said de Blasio, calling it “absolutely inappropriate to disallow a vote.”

De Blasio said Skelos (R-Nassau) could present an alternate proposal, but said it was unacceptable to block a vote.

De Blasio has requested the state Legislature allow the city to raise income taxes on residents who make more than $500,000 a year. The money would go to expand pre-K for 4-year-olds in the city, providing space for 73,000 children by January 2016.

Skelos said on Monday that he wouldn’t support raising taxes in New York City. He said increasing income taxes could affect state tax revenue if the new tax pushed wealthy city residents to leave the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is pushing to cut taxes in an election year, has proposed funding statewide pre-K programs without raising taxes.

Jeff Klein, a strong universal pre-K supporter and the state Senate’s co-leader, responded later Monday that he would only approve a budget that includes de Blasio’s plan to expand pre-K. Klein’s statement led some to believe that he would block the budget. On Tuesday, Klein clarified his stance, declining to call the tax increase necessary for a pre-K deal. Delaying the budget could affect the state’s credit rating.

Speaking with reporters at an Independent Democratic Conference press conference Tuesday, Klein said every alternative has to be on the table at this point. Klein and Skelos share the Senate presidency and both must sign off on any legislation before a vote.

De Blasio expressed disappointment with Skelos Tuesday.

“I am miffed, because I had spoken with Senator Skelos several times and understood there would be ongoing discussions,” de Blasio said.

So far de Blasio has rejected Gov. Cuomo’s proposal, pointing to State Education Commissioner John King’s assessment that full-day pre-K statewide would cost $1.6 billion per year. Cuomo’s plan allotted $1.5 billion over several years.

De Blasio has also said the city needs a dedicated funding stream exempt from the yearly budget process in Albany, which a local tax would provide.

On Tuesday, the mayor decried what he sees as a breakdown in the democratic process, saying New Yorkers overwhelmingly support pre-K as demonstrated by the substantial margin of his election victory in November.

“When you have a majority like that, it is supposed to rule the day, right?” de Blasio said. “And we are told we don’t even get a vote in Albany.”

At that point the ministers broke into a chant of “We want a vote, we want a vote.”

De Blasio said that not allowing a vote would be denying New York City residents their rights in a democracy. He called on state senators and assemblymen representing the city to make the pre-K proposal a priority. He said all city legislators should have it at the top of their agenda.

Those who don’t, will have to be reminded who they work for, said the mayor. De Blasio urged the clergy and their congregations to put pressure on their state representatives. Sign-up sheets were passed out to the ministers to take back for their members to sign up to contact their state representatives.

De Blasio said the ministers have one month, four Sundays, to mobilize their congregations before the state budget is finalized in late March.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said he would be touring churches and speaking with pastors to get them to put pressure on state officials.

The mayor’s wife Chirlane McCray also spoke at the breakfast, calling education the “defining civil rights movement of our day.”

De Blasio highlighted that pre-K pulls at parents at a deep level.

“It’s about something very human, it’s about the dreams we have for our children,” said de Blasio.

McCray said the de Blasio family was lucky to get their children Chiara and Dante into good pre-K programs and good afterschool programs. She credited Dante’s pre-K teacher with intervening and making sure Dante got speech therapy when he didn’t start speaking on time.

“Now we can’t get Dante to stop talking,” said de Blasio.