February 12, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio's allies in the New York City Council backed up the chief executive in his fight to fund universal pre-K with a minuscule tax on the wealthy – passing a new resolution supportive of the plan – and blasting State Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos' efforts to sink the whole initiative.
"The voice of the people has been heard here locally, and nothing should obstruct us from the ability to self-tax, so that we can provide a level playing field for every child in New York City," City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said ahead of a joint hearing of the Education and Women's Issues committees at City Hall.
Opponents of Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan for the state to pick up the pre-K tab without modestly taxing those making $500,000 or more, say that Albany has been singing the same tune since 1997 – and that the children of New York City finally need a dedicated revenue stream that hard-working families can count on.
"We need a locked box amount of money," New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm [D – District 25] said. "Without the proposal that the mayor has put forth, we cannot be assured that the money that's needed for New York City will actually be there."
The Education Committee chairman pointed out that New York City's children are still owned a ton of money associated with the landmark Campaign For Fiscal Equity.
The city still needs Albany's okay to implement the pre-K tax on the rich – and State Senator Skelos' intention to prevent that vote from happening means that the mayor and his supporters must now tangle with both the powerful senate co-leader, as well as the governor himself.
But a clearly defiant city council speaker said that she is "surprised" that Skelos is "preventing democracy from taking place," and that she would "love for the governor to ask for a vote on the floor [of the State Legislature].”
"We are also supportive of this tax hike…we want to see it happen, and we want to get the support of all of our legislators – including our governor," City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito said.
An even more defiant Mayor de Blasio was attending a breakfast with clergy in Brooklyn earlier in the day, when he said that there simply must be a vote in Albany.
"I think everyone should speak out and say that this is a matter of democracy, and that we have to have a vote on this," the mayor said. "You know, we don’t have a secret ballot when it comes to our legislators. Their job is to stand and be counted. You want to be against the interests of children and families? Stand up and say it. If you think it’s unfair to ask millionaires to pay a little more so we can strengthen our future? Stand up and say it, be my guest."
Currently, more than 50,000 New York City children don't have access to universal pre-k. More than double that number don't have access to extended after school programs.
"We want universal pre-K and expanded after school programs – and we want a real way to pay for it," said Melanie Hartzog, executive director, Children's Defense Fund – New York.
Supporters of the mayor's plan to fund universal pre-K say that every year, state allocated monies are routinely "moved around" – and that the children of New York City need a secure financial safety net to make sure programs intended for their benefit are not affected.
"We need that vote on the floor of Albany," Speaker Mark-Viverito added. "This is a democracy. We represent 8.3 million New Yorkers – and we are the ones saying we want this to happen."