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N.Y. Senate Said to Approve $540 Million for NYC Pre-K

Bill de Blasio
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a news conference in an elementary school gym to release details on his plan to implement universal pre-K in the next two years in New York on Feb. 25, 2014. Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

The New York Senate proposed spending $540 million a year on universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs in New York City, which may give Mayor Bill de Blasio an option other than his plan to tax the rich, said a person familiar with the negotiations.

The five-year plan is part of a deal reached yesterday between Republicans and a group of breakaway Democrats who govern the state’s upper chamber, said the person, who requested anonymity because the accord isn’t public. Though de Blasio has continued to push his plan as the only viable option to fund a city pre-K program, he has been undercut by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat who wants to pay for it without raising taxes.

“I want to make sure we have universal pre-K in the way Mayor de Blasio envisioned it,” Jeff Klein, the Bronx Democrat who co-leads the Senate, said yesterday at a press briefing in Albany. He wouldn’t confirm the spending level.

The $2.7 billion commitment is $8 million a year more than de Blasio’s tax on the wealthy would raise. The Senate proposal, which also provides pre-K funding in other municipalities, sets the stage for negotiations over the state budget before it goes into effect April 1.

Sheldon Silver, the Manhattan Democrat who leads the assembly, told reporters in Albany yesterday that he’ll drop his support of de Blasio’s tax as long as the senate’s proposal is done “without conditions, without attachments, without strings.” He declined to elaborate.

“If they do it, it’s done, as far as I’m concerned,” Silver said. “I don’t need a tax.”

‘Unprecedented Commitment’

In a statement, de Blasio called the Senate plan “an unprecedented commitment to fund free, full-day pre-K for every child in New York City, and after-school programs for every middle schooler.” He said he would “work closely with our state partners to ensure we have the sufficient, secure and ongoing resources needed to invest in the children of this city.”

The statement didn’t indicate whether he was dropping his tax plan.

De Blasio, 52, took office in January as the first Democrat to run City Hall in two decades after winning election by the largest percentage-point margin of any non-incumbent in history. He did it with a campaign that described a metropolis divided between rich and poor, a gap he said could be closed in part by taxing income above $500,000 to pay for universal pre-K.

Albany Push

The levy needed approval from Albany where Cuomo, a friend of de Blasio’s for 20 years, wants to cut taxes by $2.2 billion in an election year. Cuomo and Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, want to implement statewide early childhood education without raising taxes.

Even after four visits to Albany, including a rally this month, and a campaign meant to build public pressure on lawmakers and the governor, de Blasio has been unable to surmount the Cuomo-Skelos roadblock. Cuomo has said he’ll fully fund de Blasio’s program, and on March 10 the mayor said he’d accept funding in lieu of the tax.

“If we have a verifiable plan for five years at the dollar figure we need, we can accept that,” the mayor said in an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I’ve also said I don’t believe the vagaries of Albany -- you’ve seen them -- that we’re going to have anything as verifiable and consistent as the tax plan I’ve put forward.”

New Grade

In a radio interview later that day, Cuomo said the tax could be undone and that the funding commitment couldn’t.

“Pre-K is going to be just another grade,” Cuomo said. “You’re not going to stop funding first grade.”

The mayor’s tax would generate $2.5 billion 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.

Cuomo’s plan proposed in January would spend $2.2 billion over five years on statewide pre-K and after-school programs. The governor, 56, has said the number is open to negotiation.

Cuomo said in a statement e-mailed yesterday that he remains committed to funding any district’s early-childhood education program.

“Once it is determined that a plan is operational, the state will meet the locality’s need to that amount,” Cuomo said.

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