New York Mayor Bill de Blasio arrived in Albany today with about 1,000 supporters of his plan to tax the rich to pay for universal pre-kindergarten, the top initiative of his administration.
It’s the fourth time de Blasio has made the 154-mile (247-kilometer) trip to the state capital since assuming office Jan. 1. He needs to persuade state lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo to let him tax the wealthy for pre-K and after-school programs for middle schoolers. The fight for the tax may be in its final weeks, as some lawmakers backing the measure seek to include it in the state budget that takes effect April 1.
“We need one more push to get there,” de Blasio told supporters at the Washington Avenue Armory, whose 3,600 seats were about one-third filled. “We have built a movement over the last few months, and now it’s time for it to crescendo.”
While de Blasio, 52, was pushing for his program, Cuomo was addressing a crowd of about 10,000 rallying at the steps of Capitol in support of charter schools. Last week, the mayor rejected three charter schools’ applications to use space inside New York public school buildings rent-free, effectively blocking their creation and reversing a decision by his predecessor, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
De Blasio has said charter schools, which are publicly funded and privately operated, had been singled out for preferential treatment by the Bloomberg administration, even though they serve only 5 percent of the city’s students. The former mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
In November, de Blasio won election by the largest percentage-point margin of any non-incumbent in city history, becoming the first Democrat to run City Hall in two decades.
The sticking point on pre-K is a competing plan from Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, that’s backed by state Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos. They want a statewide pre-school program paid for out of the New York budget without raising taxes. Cuomo has said de Blasio’s idea would be unfair because other municipalities don’t have millionaires to tap. Skelos has said he’ll block the proposal from coming to a vote.
De Blasio met with Cuomo for more than an hour today. Afterward, he said they had a “positive” discussion on several issues, including funding for pre-K.
“I still say the only reliable plan on the table is the tax plan, and that’s what we’ll continue to advocate for,” said de Blasio. He added that he’ll endorse Cuomo in this year’s gubernatorial election regardless of the outcome of the pre-K debate. The two have been friends for 20 years.
Yesterday, the mayor released a 15-page report on the $190 million after-hours program, which will provide academic help and sports, art and music education to 119,000 of the city’s 224,000 middle-school students, up from about 56,000 served now.
“We’re making the case all the time and we’re gaining a lot of support, and that’s what wins the day in these things,” de Blasio said yesterday at a City Hall news briefing. “It’s not where you start. It’s where you finish.”
The mayor’s tax would generate $530 million annually over five years by raising taxes on income above $500,000 a year to 4.4 percent from almost 3.9 percent. For the 27,300 taxpayers earning $500,000 to $1 million, the average increase would be $973 a year, according to the Independent Budget Office, a municipal agency.
De Blasio will also meet with Sheldon Silver, the Manhattan Democrat who leads the Assembly. Silver joined de Blasio at the rally, where he spoke for about five minutes without mentioning the tax or the need for the wealthy to pitch in. Instead, Silver said funding for a pre-K program needs to be “significant, recurring and sustainable” and available statewide.
“What I want, and my Assembly colleagues want, is for every one of New York state’s children to always have the opportunity to succeed,” Silver said. “I don’t care who takes credit when we win this fight.”
Cuomo has said he’ll fully fund de Blasio’s pre-K program - - at any cost. The more than $2.2 billion Cuomo proposed in his January budget to spend statewide over five years for early childhood education and after-school programs was just a starting point, he has said.