New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders struck a deal to allocate $300 million for universal pre-kindergarten in New York City, giving Mayor Bill de Blasio funds for his signature program without the tax increase on the rich he sought.
It’s part of a wider accord on the state’s budget, which is about $140 billion and may set up the fourth consecutive on-time spending plan ahead of the fiscal year that starts April 1.
The pre-K funds will be available as soon as the city can make classes available, Cuomo has said. Sheldon Silver, the Manhattan Democrat who leads the Assembly and supported de Blasio’s tax plan, said before the accord was reached that the funds from the state would be adequate.
“It’s unlikely they’ll be able to ramp up a program at a rate that’s faster than what will be available,” Silver told reporters in Albany March 26.
The accord puts a formal end to a battle over taxes between Cuomo and de Blasio, fellow Democrats and friends for 20 years. The mayor took office in January after winning election by the widest margin in history for a nonincumbent with a campaign that described a metropolis divided between rich and poor. He said a tax increase on those earning more than $500,000 to fund pre-K and after-hours programs for middle-schoolers would help shrink the divide.
The sticking point was that de Blasio needed approval from state lawmakers and the governor to raise taxes. He visited the capital four times, pressing for a levy increase. Cuomo and Republicans who control the Senate were focused on cutting taxes in an election year, and de Blasio’s initiative hit a wall.
About 20,000 of New York’s 68,000 4-year-olds get city- funded full-day pre-kindergarten classes, with 38,000 enrolled in three-hour programs and 10,000 in none. De Blasio, who plans to start the program in September with 53,000 children, has estimated it would cost about $342 million a year to serve about 73,000 children in 2015.
About 25 percent of middle-schoolers participate in after- hours extracurricular programs, and to double that enrollment would cost about $190 million, according to de Blasio’s plan.
Over the last month, negotiations among Cuomo and lawmakers zeroed in on a dollar figure for pre-K in the city and statewide, with little talk of the tax. The $300 million just for New York City is triple the amount Cuomo included in his January budget proposal for the entire state.
“New York City has been very aggressive in saying they want to move quickly and they would need about $300 million to bring it online,” Cuomo told reporters in East Syracuse on March 25. “We’ll have the money available, but the actual result is going to be up to the local governments.”
With assistance from Henry Goldman in New York.
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