Mayor should take pre-K offer, seek higher taxes later

By Tom Allon

Mayor Bill de Blasio has already had a few impressive successes in implementing his agenda during his first 30 days in office.

His expanded sick leave bill has the strong support of new Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) and will mark a big victory for the progressive treatment of workers throughout the city. Its predecessor was a contentious piece of legislation delayed for a long time by former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn that ordered companies with 15 or more workers to pay up to five sick days a year. The latest version will apply to companies with as few as five employees.

The widespread use of stop-and-frisk by the Police Department, which had already been dropping in 2013 in Ray Kelly and Mike Bloomberg’s last year, seems to be a relic of the past as Bill Bratton takes the reins at 1 Police Plaza.

The new mayor has picked a diverse and talented group of commissioners, a deputy mayor and city schools chancellor who have vast experience and will know how to navigate the bureaucracy as they implement de Blasio’s vision for “one city.”

But perhaps the most impressive win thus far, the governor’s promise to fund universal pre-K in New York for the next five years, has gotten lost in the argument of paying for this through additional taxes on wealthy New Yorkers.

Whether you agree or not that high earners can pay more to help improve our city for all — and there may be a compelling argument here — the idea of raising taxes in 2014, a gubernatorial election year, seems like a non-starter.

Although I find the mayor’s conviction and consistent message impressive, in this case he probably should declare victory, take the state funding right away and begin the daunting task of setting up schools for these early learners and explore how to best implement this long-overdue educational reform.

Where the funding comes from is secondary to the great opportunity to erase the achievement gap before kindergarten. We should be focused on figuring out how to get this accomplished as quickly as possible. Even if it happened tomorrow, it will be years before we see the potential positive impact of this new education reform.

Kudos to de Blasio for making this a big issue in his campaign and for getting Cuomo to include it in his budget — a week after de Blasio’s inauguration.

As President Barack Obama once said about something else, de Blasio should feel the fierce urgency of now to get universal pre-K off the ground. Take Cuomo’s generous offer in 2014 and perhaps in 2015, when the governor is safely ensconced for four more years, and after Hillary Clinton’s declaration that she running for the White House in 2016, the mayor can convince Albany to raise taxes for the long-term funding.

Although there is a lot to do in education — from teacher training to rebuilding crumbling schools — universal pre-K is a quick and great first step for de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña to begin improving our school system.

Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at tallon@cityandstateny.com.

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