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De Blasio heads to Albany for pleas and protest

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
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ALBANY — Bill de Blasio's journey to Albany marks a key date in his young mayoralty, as he heads to the capital to make a late push for his signature pre-kindergarten plan amid a backdrop of a protest organized by well-financed charter school advocates.

De Blasio, a Democrat, was elected in part on a mandate to raise taxes on wealthy New Yorkers to fund universal pre-kindergarten and expanded after-school programs for middle schoolers to help fight the city's income inequality gap, but he has run into roadblock after roadblock at the state capital. He needs the approval of the state legislature to raise taxes but many of Albany's powerbrokers have given no sign they are willing to do so in an election year.

Moreover, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has performed some political jujitsu, not only by proposing that pre-kindergarten instead be funded through the state budget, but by arguing that giving New York City a chance to tax its millionaires creates inequality for other communities in the state which don't have the same affluent tax base.

So on Tuesday, de Blasio will make his fourth trip to Albany since taking office two months ago to again try to persuade stubborn lawmakers that the will of the people demand a dedicated, five-year revenue stream to fund pre-kindergarten, which he argues can only be guaranteed through the tax hike.

De Blasio insisted on Monday that this time would be different.

The lawmakers "understand how much our constituents want it," de Blasio said at a City Hall press conference. "A lot of them have wanted to see more facts about how it could be done and if we could keep to this rigorous schedule. And the more information we're putting on the table, the more support we're winning over."

The mayor's administration has released a pair of reports in the last week that show that the city can house tens of thousands of new pre-kindergarten and middle school students this September and has steadfastly argued that Cuomo's plan does not provide nearly enough funding to finance the city's program.

Though crunch time for the state budget, which is due in early April, is fast approaching, de Blasio said he was not certain he would be able to meet with Cuomo or Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate leader who opposes the tax hike, while in Albany.

"I hope we can make the schedules match," the mayor said Monday. "I don't know what his schedule is, but if there's a way we can make it match, that'd be great."

Despite frequently describing themselves as longtime friends, neither Cuomo nor de Blasio have publically suggested much of a willingness to compromise on their plans. Cuomo's team did not reveal the governor's schedule.

De Blasio is expected to meet with other lawmakers and attend a rally in support of his plan.

But it will not be the only demonstration in Albany: several thousand parents and students are expected to protest de Blasio's decision to reverse a decision to give three charter schools space — and free rent — in public school buildings.

De Blasio, long a skeptic of charter schools, did allow 14 other charter schools to keep the space given to them by his predecessor Michael Bloomberg. The three that lost their space all are part of the Success Academy Charter School system, led by de Blasio's longtime political rival Eva Moskowitz.

Moskowitz instructed her 22 schools to close Tuesday so students can join the protest. They will be joined by several dozen more schools and their coalition has also unveiled a multi-million dollar ad campaign to object to de Blasio's ruling.

 
 

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