Mayor Bill de Blasio is ramping up the hard sell for his signature prekindergarten program as it clashes head-on in Albany with a rival statewide plan championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
But Cuomo still has the better case.
At a news conference Wednesday, de Blasio got tough:
The city can't afford to waste time, he said. Kids who are behind by third grade have only limited chances of catching up. Translation: Albany should let the city hike taxes on its rich people and then get out of the way.
State Education Commissioner John King validated the city's plan, the mayor asserted, when King estimated the cost of a statewide program at $1.6 billion a year rather than Cuomo's projection of $300 million a year. Translation: Cuomo is lowballing the numbers.
Put aside for a moment the strange spectacle of a New York City mayor campaigning furiously for an income-tax increase on his own people -- those making more than $500,000 a year -- even when the governor says the state could pick up the tab. De Blasio says the city income tax is needed to ensure a steady revenue stream for pre-K.
But will it really? New York City is a company town, and that company is Wall Street. It can be terribly volatile. And when it's losing money, the municipal budget shrinks and programs take a hit. The local income tax offers no special protection against economic fluctuations.
As for the implementation of pre-K, King notes that a statewide rollout will take time -- to find classroom space, to hire teachers, to ensure high-quality programs.
But so will the city's program. About 20,000 4-year-olds get full-day pre-K now. About 40,000 get half-day pre-K. De Blasio wants to bring the full-day number to 54,000 first and then to 73,000. That will require hiring and new classroom space.
The city already has some of the nation's highest taxes. But besides Cuomo, some of the top opponents of the de Blasio plan now look to be State Senate Republicans. So here's to you, Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Nassau County. A city turns its lonely eyes to you.