Assembly plans to OK mayor’s pre-K tax hike

By Rich Bockmann

The state Assembly planned to authorize the city to raise income taxes to fund an expansion of pre-K, but in the state Senate, where Democrats do not hold the reins, the body was split on how to fund the expansion.

State Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) and Speaker Sheldon Silver announced Wednesday the Legislature’s lower house would approve Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to raise taxes on the city’s wealthiest earners to fund an expansion of universal pre-K, though by press time later in the evening lawmakers had not voted on the Assembly’s 2014-15 budget resolution, the starting point to negotiations with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“This year’s budget proposal reaffirms the Assembly’s commitment to ensuring that New York’s students receive the highest possible quality education from pre-K all the way through 12th grade,” said Nolan, chairwoman of the Education Committee. “In addition to providing support for critical programs and resources, our one-house budget addresses the funding challenges that many school districts face across the state, all the while ensuring that each and every child is given the same chance at a bright and successful future.”

Whereas de Blasio prefers a tax increase on city residents earning more than $500,000 a year to provide a steady revenue stream for universal pre-K and after-school programs, Cuomo favors using existing funds to pay for a statewide program, although at lower levels than needed for the city’s plan.

Borough President Melinda Katz, a former assemblywoman, was in the mayor’s corner, saying a dedicated funding stream for universal pre-K and after-school programs for middle schoolers is a win for Queens.

“The borough’s children will have expanded opportunities to continue to build their knowledge after school and have a greater possibility to be afforded a head start as a direct result of this funding,” she said. “I commend the speaker and the Assembly majority for taking this first important step to make this a reality for our children. By fully supporting this effort to improve educational opportunities for all of our city’s children, we will all benefit.”

Alicia Hyndman, president of the Community Education Council for District 29 in southeast Queens, echoed support for “the only plan” that fully funds the two initiatives.

In the Senate, however, things were less clear. The upper chamber did not vote on a preliminary budget Wednesday and the leadership has been split on the issue.

Assembly Speaker Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) has said he is opposed to a tax hike and Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), who chairs the Independent Democratic Conference, has come out in support of de Blasio’s plan.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who recently joined the IDC, said he thinks the governor and both houses of the Legislature will work out a deal.

“At the end of the day I think there will be a compromise,” he said. “Everybody supports universal pre-K. The issue is how it should be funded.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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