ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio hinted Monday he may be willing to back off of his proposed tax hike on the wealthy to fund prekindergarten -- but he wants assurances from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that the state's funding plan would be reliable.
Approval by Cuomo and the state Legislature would be needed for the city to tax its residents earning $500,000 or more to fund citywide pre-K -- and the mayor's plan appears to have stalled in Albany. De Blasio, in an MSNBC interview Monday, said he's open to an alternative source, but wants a "verifiable" city funding stream for $530 million annually for five years, and he hasn't seen it yet.
"The most available opportunity for learning is when kids are three and four years old," de Blasio said. "In this country and in this city, we just don't go far enough with early-childhood education."
His dedicated city tax surcharge would be more verifiable and consistent than leaving it to the vagaries of Albany and would cost high earners about $900 a year, he said. "That is the cost of a small soy Latte at Starbucks," he joked.
With state budget negotiations looming, some legislators who backed de Blasio's plan are now calling for "a sustainable revenue source" for statewide early education without specifying taxes.
Speaking on WNYC radio, Cuomo promised Monday to fund statewide full-day prekindergarten programs as soon as they're ready and said, once established, it will be practically impossible to close the new grade. A state budget law would be as permanent as a tax law, which could also be changed, he said, noting he and lawmakers previously extended the state income tax surcharge on high earners.
"We're going to have a statewide pre-K program funded by the state," Cuomo said. "That's what we said we're going to do, and that's what we're going to do. I said all along that we'll fund the need. And as quickly as cities can bring it online, we will fund it.''
His proposed budget has $1.5 billion allocated for the program, Cuomo said. "The numbers are flexible; the commitment is not," he said. "The real certitude is it would be practically impossible to begin funding a grade and then the next year say, 'Johnny has to stay home this year because we're not funding the class.'"
The 24-member Senate Democratic Conference, which had endorsed de Blasio's proposal, issued a budget proposal Monday calling for sustainable pre-K funding for several years that "assures generations of 4-year-olds a full-day experience." They said the budget should also provide for full-day kindergarten statewide.
Budget proposals from the Democrat-controlled Assembly and the Senate's majority coalition of Republicans and Democrats are expected later this week. Negotiations including the governor's office will follow. A final budget is due before the new fiscal year starts April 1.
Some observers believe de Blasio could be boxing himself into a corner -- by clinging to the tax for so long, he's made it difficult to claim a political win if prekindergarten is funded by any other means.
But others believe de Blasio has been playing a more complicated political game. On one hand, he has been appeasing the liberal Democratic base that elected him in November by championing the tax hike, an idea popular in the city's far left circles. And on the other, by pushing for the tax until the end, even if it is doomed, he could pressure Cuomo to increase the amount of money he will send to New York City to set up the pre-K program.
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