Beth Fertig is WNYC’s Contributing Editor for Education. She previously covered politics, which included City Hall during the Giuliani administration, and the U.S. Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. She also covered transportation and infrastructure.
De Blasio Prepares for 'Profound Fight' Over Pre-K
Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 06:02 PM
Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied his troops Tuesday, a day after a Republican State Senate co-leader said he would block a vote on the mayor's plan to expand pre-kindergarten and after-school programs by taxing the city's wealthiest residents.
"This is going to be a profound fight, and it is a fight, both about the substance of the issue and about democracy," the mayor said at a church breakfast in Brooklyn attended by the Reverend Al Sharpton and about 200 other clergy who support the pre-k plan.
De Blasio said he was "miffed" with the State Senator Dean Skelos for saying he wouldn't bring the pre-k proposal to the floor.
"If Albany is not going to allow a vote on something that the people are demanding, I think the people are going to be even more frustrated with the process in Albany," he said.
But Skelos, who represents part of Long Island, and many of his Republican colleagues from across the state believe raising taxes will cause high earners to leave the state. This is also an election year in Albany.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo firmly opposes raising taxes. Instead, he proposed adding hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the state budget to help districts expand pre-k. However, De Blasio has said that would neither be enough to fund the tens of thousands of seats he wants for the coming fall nor a reliable revenue source going forward.
De Blasio still has support from Sheldon Silver, the leader of the Democrat-controlled Assembly. But he can't win without the governor and the Senate which is ruled by a coalition of Republicans and a handful of breakaway Democrats.
Their co-leader, Jeff Klein of the Bronx and Westchester, had signaled support for de Blasio's plan but appeared to soften his stance on Tuesday, saying "I'm not sure" when asked by reporters if the mayor's tax hike was the only reliable method to pay for the plan.
Later he sent reporters this statement: "As I have always said, I am not in favor of taxing just for the sake of taxing. But I wholeheartedly support Mayor de Blasio’s tax increase because it will adequately fund universal pre-k for New York City and that is why I am committed to making it a part of this year’s state budget."
It wasn't clear if that meant Klein would accept more money in the budget in lieu of the tax.
Cuomo has claimed that a budgetary solution makes more sense because enabling New York City to raise taxes for pre-k would be unfair to districts without the means, a message that appears to be catching on upstate.
“We cannot deny pre-k for some children in our state based on where they were born," said the Parent Power Project, based in Rochester.
"Whether families live in Brooklyn or Buffalo, all of our children should have equal access to the educational opportunities that will help them grow, learn and succeed," said Senator Tim Kennedy of Buffalo.
Meanwhile, De Blasio is scheduled to deliver his first budget address on Wednesday, in which he will outline a strategy for the impending contract negotiations with the city's 150 municipal unions.
With reporting from the Associated Press and Karen DeWitt in Albany