New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio says he aims to win his fight for a new tax on top earners to fill a money pot for expanded prekindergarten programs -- and intends to do so by April 1, when the new state fiscal year begins.
That's especially interesting because, for months, it has sounded highly unlikely that the governor and Legislature would agree to a new tax in what will be, for them, an election year. Campaign rivals derided de Blasio's proposal in debates all along as "dead on arrival."
Rather than dial it back since his election a month ago, however, de Blasio has only upped the stakes of this signature proposal. Last week, he seemed to increase the risk of an early loss by setting 90 days from his inauguration as the target, and Tuesday, he appointed a panel "to guide the largest pre-K expansion in the nation's history" -- for which funding has yet to be secured.
Is de Blasio setting himself up for a big defeat that could diminish his stature early in his administration?
He may be figuring that even if the tax bid fails, his public will love him for trying.
To date, his career as councilman and public advocate largely involved rallying support for causes from outside the inner sanctums of executive power. Unlike departing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, de Blasio has experience in the role of protesting activist. Since he's very unlikely to be outside City Hall demonstrating against his own policies come next year, Albany might be just the place to play the agitator.
Pre-election polls on the matter may shed some light. A majority of those surveyed supported the pre-K expansion -- but a majority also expected the tax to run aground in Albany.
So the political peril of this path may be less than meets the eye.
On Monday, de Blasio's proposal received a positive reception from members of the city's Assembly delegation. Those are Democrats -- an easy audience. In the state Senate, Republicans, rhetorically united against tax hikes, have clout. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, while a Democrat, has remained noncommital, saying again Tuesday: "We're going to have that discussion in January."
Mounting the battle through Albany's budget season could serve other tactical purposes for de Blasio. Should he get the tax, he can boast an underdog's triumph; if not, maybe the state finds other funding. One union source even suggested that the time it takes de Blasio to fight for the proposal could put off pressure to settle labor contracts.
Veteran Assemb. James Brennan (D-Brooklyn) offers a wider perspective on aid from Albany. He argues that the city's overall slice of the state pie has diminished over the long term, with the end of revenue-sharing allocations from the state, a decline in the share of the city schools budget provided by the state and federal government, and the 1998 death of the city's commuter tax.
Brennan says those losses add up to more than the city has gained from having the state pick up Medicaid costs in recent years.
"New York City is covering increasing portions of the cost of its $70-plus-billion budget," Brennan told Newsday.
Whatever their ultimate merits, his statements suggest a discussion for 2014 that could go beyond de Blasio's signature proposal.