By Tom Allon
You have to give credit to new Mayor Bill de Blasio. He has presented a clear progressive vision during the campaign and in his first 40 days in office he has hit the ground running, doggedly pursuing his bold agenda.
From appointing housing commissioners who see the urgency for dramatically increased affordable housing to the modest tax hike to fund universal pre-K, de Blasio has not let politics or the powerful Gov. Andrew Cuomo dissuade him from pursuing his campaign pledges.
On universal pre-K, de Blasio has been clear: The city should pay its own way by taxing top earners — $500,000 and above annually — and this will ensure that there is a constant revenue stream that cannot be cut if Albany has budget shortfalls or if the state leaders of the future decide to cut this important program.
When I was running for mayor and in debates with de Blasio and the other candidates, I raised the concern that increasing taxes would lead to an exodus of the wealthy from the city and therefore decrease our core base of taxpayers.
But de Blasio has won me over during the past year. While I think perhaps the tax should start at $1 million of annual earnings, I now believe he’s right. This is an equitable way for those doing well to “pay it forward” to the next generation of children in our city.
Upper middle-class and rich New Yorkers have long recognized the importance of pre-K for their children. They pay high tuitions to make sure their children get a head start in learning.
A dedicated tax to help those children whose families can’t afford private pre-schools is actually a great investment in our city’s future. More of these students will be more employable themselves and thus will contribute to the city’s tax base in the future.
As de Blasio realizes, this is not a quick-fix for public education in New York. In fact, unlike most government programs, we are unlikely to see the full results or the economic impact of this new education initiative for almost another two decades.
It is impressive that de Blasio is thinking that far ahead and kudos, too, to Cuomo for making universal pre-K a priority throughout the state.
Some believe that since the governor pledged the money from the state, de Blasio should just declare victory and move on. That would be the easy, expedient political move. But de Blasio has exhibited that he doesn’t want partial victories or easy political solutions.
Like his first boss, Mayor David Dinkins — and his esteemed colleague, ex-Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., who tackled the city’s rampant crime problem in the early 1990s by raising taxes to hire more police officers — de Blasio knows that mayors sometimes have to make unpopular decisions with one segment of the population to achieve the greater good for all.
Even de Blasio’s highly praised predecessor, Mike Bloomberg, raised property taxes early in his term to help the city meet its growing budget obligations.
So Mayor de Blasio’s bold plan for city funding for early childhood education, and expanded after-school for middle schoolers, is the right thing to do and not without precedent.
Here’s hoping that even in a statewide election year, when the governor and the Albany Legislature will be extra cautious about new taxes, de Blasio will press on to allow New York City to independently pay for its new education initiatives.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.