Cuomo Promises de Blasio 'Whatever He Needs' for Universal Pre-K

January 23, 2014

A day after Mayor Bill de Blasio rebuffed his proposal to set aside $1.5 billion to pay for prekindergarten classes, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo came back on Wednesday with a new offer: a blank check.

“Whatever he needs,” Mr. Cuomo promised. “As fast as he can phase in, we’ll fund it.”

Long accustomed to deference from fellow New York Democrats, the governor is suddenly adjusting to a fresh and frustrating reality.

As Mr. de Blasio begins his fourth week in office, he is sticking by his signature campaign plan to raise taxes on New York City’s highest earners to pay for expanded prekindergarten.

So Mr. Cuomo, facing a mayor unmoved by his opening offer, sharpened his argument, suggesting Mr. de Blasio’s position was motivated by politics and would be unfair to smaller cities in the state that are not magnets for millionaires.

In a 90-minute interview with reporters and editors at The New York Times, Mr. Cuomo committed himself to covering all of the costs for universal full-day prekindergarten as soon as New York City or any other school system in the state can prepare itself to spend the money, declaring, “We’re very good at writing checks.”

He made clear that he did not expect the Legislature to approve Mr. de Blasio’s tax increase. Mr. Cuomo seemed perplexed at why, a day after his $1.5 billion proposal, the mayor’s revenue proposal was still relevant, asking, “Why do you need a tax for a service we’re going to fully fund?”

And as Mr. de Blasio’s allies prepare to mount a campaign-style effort to lean on Albany lawmakers, Mr. Cuomo suggested that the mayor’s interest in raising taxes was a matter of political symbolism, not revenue collection.

“He’s saying part of what he ran on is income inequality, and part of the answer to income inequality is taxing rich people,” the governor said. “That’s what he’s saying, and that’s a political position — I understand that. I’m saying something else, which is when it comes to pre-K, we will pay for pre-K.”

Indeed, Mr. Cuomo predicted that even if New York City’s prekindergarten program is awash in cash, Mr. de Blasio will keep asking for permission to raise taxes on the rich.

“If it’s not pre-K,” Mr. Cuomo said, “it’ll be something else.”

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