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De Blasio Urges State Legislature To Approve City Tax Hike To Fund Pre-K Plan

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) –  The battle over universal pre-kindergarten for every 4-year-old has been shaping up as a clash of political titans, but on Monday, a united front emerged between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo – to a point.

An interagency report released Monday says the program would reach 54,000 children who need it by September. By the 2015-16 school year, it would be available to all 73,000 eligible children.

And as CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, Cuomo and de Blasio met in Albany Monday to discuss their shared commitment to universal pre-K. But they did not seem to make any headway on resolving their differences over how to fund it.

“The new Mayor of New York truly is a friend, in the deepest sense of the word,” Cuomo said. “We go way back.”

The men welcomed each other with a hearty hug at a press event about their shared goal of getting a $10 billion federal Medicaid waiver.

“This is someone I’ve have had the honor of working with for almost 20 years,” de Blasio said. “So I hope people understand when there’s this depth of personal relationship, that we talk about a variety of issues all the time.”

But while de Blasio and Cuomo may consider themselves friends, they are also rivals when it comes to paying for universal pre-K. On Monday, de Blasio referenced his huge election victory while pitching his plan to hike the city income tax on residents making $500,000 or more per year.

“It’s an idea that every public opinion poll – and also the results of last November’s elections – show has overwhelming backing from the people of New York City,” de Blasio said.

As WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported, de Blasio made the argument that the city is ready to go forward with universal pre-K if the state Legislature will green-light the tax hike.

“We’re not asking Albany to raise the state income tax by a single penny to pay for universal pre-K and after-school programs in New York City,” de Blasio said. “We’re simply asking Albany to allow New York City to tax itself, its wealthiest residents. We don’t want to punish the wealthy for their success. We want to create more success stories. This is about the children of New York and just how strong of a commitment we are willing to make to their futures.”

The city says the total cost of the program is estimated to be $340 million annually. It says 2,000 new classrooms would be required; it’s identified 4,000.

“New York City should be given the right to make decisions for itself,” said de Blasio, who ran for office promising to battle income inequality. “It’s the case of self-determination or home rule, the people of New York City have spoken.”

The mayor also heaped praise on Cuomo’s idea for statewide universal pre-K, but de Blasio added the city’s tax plan would provide “reliable, consistent funding.”

But Cuomo, up for reelection this fall, said he has found money in the state budget to pay for pre-K – not only in the city, but statewide – without raising taxes.

“I have made my proposal, and I believe my proposal is the best proposal for the state,” Cuomo said.

New York City officials cannot raise tax rates on their wealthy residents without a “home rule” message from the state Legislature. Such messages to localities are common. State Sen. Diane Savino of (D-Staten Island), one of the city lawmakers who greeted de Blasio warmly, told the budget hearing that lawmakers were set to approve five other home rule messages later that day.

Critics said the mayor seems obsessed with the idea of hiking taxes on high earners.

“If we don’t need to raise taxes in order to achieve the goal, then we ought not raise taxes,” said state Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island.) “We should not be raising taxes just for raising taxes’ sake.”

And Assemblywoman Jane Corwin (R-Clarence), of the suburban Buffalo area, said she was concerned about raising taxes in a time when just 35,000 city residents pay 40 percent of the taxes.

“What happens if some of them leave the state?” Corwin asked.

Some in Albany predict a pre-K tax hike would eventually be siphoned off to pay for other city problems. But de Blasio said it would not.

He promised it would go to “a dedicated funding stream, a locked box, shielded from what we all know is the inevitable give and take of the budgeting process.”

The governor and the mayor were asked – if they both agree on the need for universal pre-K, why the political chess game over how to pay for it? The men laughed and said it’s all part of the legislative process.

But some political pundits expressed skepticism as to whether that legislative process would result in a consensus. One asid de Blasio is not likely to find enough support in Albany for a tax hike — at least this year.

“The Legislature and the governor are not going to do tax increases in a year when the Legislature and the governor are running for re-election,” Democratic political strategist Hank Sheinkopf said.

The next step is a City Council resolution formally asking the state to approve the tax hike. The mayor said if city leaders want to increase taxes, lawmakers in Albany should not try to stop it.

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