January 27, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The governor’s plan to fund universal pre-K and after school programs with existing revenues might sound good to some, but unions and other pro-labor groups who fought Mike Bloomberg’s efforts to remake the system, say that Cuomo’s plan is still too risky – and that they much prefer Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to take care of the children of New York City by taxing the rich “less than three bucks a day.”
“The mayor’s plan offers more security both for parents and childcare workers over a five year period,” said GL Tyler, political director of AFSCME’s DC 1707. “And we wouldn’t be subject to the vacillations of the legislators or the governor year after year.”
DC 1707 Executive Director Raglan George, Jr. recently wrapped up a year-long, one-man campaign for universal pre-K funding. Mayor de Blasio was one of the DC1707 leader’s earliest supporters, and joined George on one of his weekly marches outside City Hall back in April – when the then-public advocate’s election as mayor was far from a foregone conclusion.
“We think it’s more stable to get the money [to fund universal pre-K] from a tax increase supported by the wealthy,” Tayler added.
The New York State United Teachers’ [NYSUT] leadership recently expressed similar concerns given that Governor Cuomo's plan also comes with a proposed $2 billion tax cut.
"Research shows that universal, full-day pre-kindergarten programs are effective in heading off achievement gaps and helping students get strong starts on their education," said Carl Korn, chief press officer, NYSUT. "So, inclusion in the proposed executive budget is a positive. The question is, how is it going to be paid for and sustained?"
During his inaugural speech, Mayor de Blasio said that funding universal pre-K through a tax hike on those making in excess of $500,000, amounts to about the daily cost of a “small soy latte at Starbucks.”
That, however, is apparently too much for centrist-Cuomo who has since countered with his own plan to fund universal pre-K through a special bond act and casino revenues.
“We are pleased that Governor Cuomo has made universal Pre-K a priority, but we are concerned that without a designated funding stream there will not be sufficient funds to fully implement this proposal, and that the programs could evaporate the next time there is a deficit,” said Deborah Axt, co-executive director, Make the Road New York.
With the ball now in his court, all eyes are set on the new mayor and how he handles the biggest challenge of his nascent administration. But de Blasio is already on record saying that the crushing defeat he dealt Republican Joe Lhota last fall, proves that he has a mandate for his progressive polices.
Despite its size and significance, however, New York City still needs Albany’s okay to impose a “latte tax” on the rich – and the mayor’s supporters say that needs to change.
“We need more revenue for the state and for the city,” Tyler continued. “New York City ought to have the ability, like other counties in New York State, to tax their people. New York City, the largest metropolis in the state, does not have the ability to tax anybody without getting approval from the legislature.”
While the kerfuffle over universal pre-k funding is being portrayed as a battle of wills between Cuomo and de Blasio, Axt is hoping that the governor will ultimately support the mayor’s progressive agenda.
“We urge the governor to support New York City and Mayor de Blasio's plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest among us to pay for this critical expansion,” Axt said. “The 50,000 four-year-old children in New York City today without access to full-day pre-K deserve nothing less.”
As for NYSUT, Korn said, "We'll be fighting for $1.9 billion in school aid, and a sustained investment in universal, full-day pre-K."