What's the best way to pay for full-day kindergarten in New York City and the rest of New York state? That question could lead to a prolonged tussle between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gotham Mayor Bill de Blasio, as they seek to outmaneuver each other on the issue of prekindgarten.
Cuomo and de Blasio are both Democrats, and they both support universal prekindgarten. So what's the problem? The crux is how it should be funded.
As my colleague Christina Samuels wrote about roughly a week ago, in order to pay for universal pre-kindergarten in New York City, de Blasio wants to raise taxes on city earners making over $500,000 a year. He pledged to do so when he was running for mayor.
"This five-year surcharge would yield $530 million in new revenue to pay for universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds and fund after-school programs for all middle school students," his campaign website states. (Samuels' story at Education Week notes that of that amount, about $340 miillion would go to universal pre-K.)
But Cuomo has his own plan that conflicts with the mayor's. In his budget address yesterday, he laid out a plan to funnel $1.5 billion to provide universal pre-K over five years to the whole state, while at the same time cutting taxes to the tune of $2.2 billion over three years. The plan seemed to be clear pushback by Cuomo on de Blasio, according to The New York Times, even though the governor didn't mention the mayor by name.
And there's one other very crucial hurdle for de Blasio that simultaneously seems to give Cuomo an edge: State government would have to approve the kind of local tax increase the mayor wants to enact on those high earners in the Big Apple. The new mayor says his strategy for universal pre-K has broad support in the city and that the issue helped him win last year's election. But that may not cut any ice with lawmakers in Albany, whether they're Republicans who have partial control of the state Senate, or Cuomo himself, who has to think about a re-election bid this year, unlike the newly-elected de Blasio, and has his own plan.
UPDATE: Cuomo seemed interested in defusing this conflict with de Blasio when he told Times that he would provide whatever funding the new mayor wanted for pre-K: "Whatever he needs. As fast as he can phase in, we'll fund it." (He didn't cite a dollar amount.) At the same time, he said that the legislature was unlikely to approve the tax increase de Blasio wants on high earners in the city, and questioned why the mayor would raise taxes to fund something the state had its own plans to fully support.
Here's the key precedent on state approval of local tax increases, via Bloomberg: "From 2011 to 2013, the [state] Senate approved at least 35 measures that allowed localities to increase taxes or perpetuate those already in place. Three proposals died in the Assembly. The other 32 were signed by Cuomo."
So precedent would seem to give an edge to de Blasio and those who favor local control for New York City in this circumstance. He appears ready to fight for his proposal. But how many state lawmakers pondering their own re-election campaigns would shy away from raising the ire of deep-pocketed political donors from Wall Street and elsewhere in Gotham by jacking up their tax rates?