Gov. Proposes One Way to Fund Pre-K, Mayor Sticks to Another

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget includes $1.5 billion for expanding pre-kindergarten programs statewide over five years. While that's an increase over previous budgets, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that's not enough to avoid a tax increase on New York City's wealthiest residents, ensuring further tension between the two leaders.

De Blasio's supporters note that Cuomo's budget for pre-k wouldn't even cover New York City alone, the cost of which is estimated at $340 million for an additional 48,000 full-day seats. Cuomo's increase would start at $100 million the first year and gradually ramp up each year. De Blasio also called for expanding after-school programs for middle school students, which would bring the total price tag for both city programs to $530 million annually.

Nonetheless, the new mayor focused on the positive when asked about the governor's proposal during a press conference Tuesday. De Blasio portrayed the fact that Cuomo had invested so much more in pre-k than in previous budgets as an important first step.

"Any plan that puts more resources into education is commendable," said de Blasio. "What we need is a plan that locks in resources over five years and is not contingent on the vagaries of each year's budget process."

De Blasio has repeatedly said the tax increase on those making over $500,000 a year is the only reliable way to ensure stable funding.

During his budget address just a few hours later, Cuomo appeared resolute in his opposition to any tax increases during this election year. He also portrayed his own proposal as equally stable because it would fund pre-k and after-school programs over five years.

"The state will pay for it, and the state will be proud to pay for it," he said. "It's a priority, we believe in children, we believe in pre-k, let's put our money where our mouth is. Let's make it a reality."

Cuomo did not mention de Blasio, but he didn't need to. It was clear that he was saying he had a better way of getting de Blasio's proposals accomplished. His plan proposed $720 million in casino revenues to expand after-school programs statewide over five years.

He also proposed a $2 billion education technology bond act that he said could help districts pay for constructing additional pre-k and after-school seats.

"The state will move as fast as the districts will move," he said. "It's not that they don't want to do it, it's that they don't have the capacity to do it."

Cuomo also emphasized the need to have high-quality early childhood education. He said he wants the state to re-examine pre-k inspections, regulations, construction codes and facility requirements.

With just over two months to go before the states April 1 budget deadline, it's not clear how the two men, who say they are friends, will resolve their differences. Neither has directly criticized the other; Both are asserting their political muscle.

De Blasio has established a separate advocacy group called UPKNYC to lobby Albany. On Tuesday, a coalition of supporters released statements that were very much in sync with de Blasio's: they praised the governor for taking a good first step, but they all called for the tax increase.

"We urge Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to pass Mayor de Blasio’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay for the expansion of full day pre-k and after-school programs,” said the Campaign for Children, a coalition of 150 early childhood education and after-school advocacy and provider organizations.

"Albany has talked about fully funding pre-k again and again for 15 years, but without new tax revenue as Mayor de Blasio has proposed, there is simply no way to give our children the quality education they deserve,” added Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change.

The mayor repeatedly has cited polls showing the majority of city residents support his signature campaign proposal.

"I have a mandate from the people to pursue this plan, and I'm going to pursue this plan," he said although he stopped short of saying he would refuse state funds through any other means.

Cuomo made his approach clear when he described his entire budget proposal: "It's not a package that has been put together to provoke, it's a package that's been put together to pass."

Nonetheless, the mayor's supporters believe they have a good case to make in the legislature, where assembly Democrats support the tax increase, along with one of the Senate's leaders, Democrat Jeffrey Klein. The Senate is co-led by Republican Dean Skelos who opposes any tax increase. Those three men and Cuomo will ultimately hammer out a final budget negotiation.

Klein has been particularly forceful in saying there's a precedent for letting individual municipalities raise taxes that don't affect the rest of the state, and that it wouldn't be fair to deny New York City this form of home rule.