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De Blasio, Cuomo hint at compromise in pre-K funding

Mayor Bill De Blasio on Morning Joe on

Mayor Bill De Blasio on Morning Joe on MSNBC on March 10, 2014. Credit: MSNBC

Mayor Bill de Blasio Monday signaled new flexibility in his uphill fight to secure a tax hike from Albany for universal prekindergarten, saying he'd accept an "alternative" if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo can guarantee suitable funding.

"I stand with the idea that a dedicated tax from our own people paying for our own program is the best way, but I'm absolutely open to an alternative that gets the job done," de Blasio said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." At another point, he said: "Is it a tax for tax's sake, as some people said? Of course not, it was always about achieving the end, but I do believe the virtue of a dedicated tax."

Cuomo also hinted at room for compromise in a WNYC-FM interview. He argued that a tax surcharge is not necessarily a dependable revenue source because it could always be eliminated by state lawmakers. But he called the amount of revenue available for statewide universal pre-K "flexible."

"Forget the numbers, it's: We will pay for the need of pre-K because we want to do it," Cuomo said without specifics. "And as quickly as cities can bring it online, we will fund it."

De Blasio has long lobbied for raising taxes on city residents making more than $500,000 to fund his pre-K and after-school proposals but cannot proceed without state legislative approval. Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, opposes the plan and has countered with a pledge to expand pre-K statewide using a budget surplus.

State lawmakers are considering the tax hike before the April 1 budget deadline.

De Blasio got a boost Monday night from Democrats in the state Assembly. Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said his house's budget proposal will include the taxing authority the mayor seeks.

But the final budget must still be negotiated with Cuomo and the state Senate.

Also Monday, the Success Academy Charter Schools system filed the first of three suits this week against the de Blasio administration challenging its decision to reject three schools' space applications.

Success Academy said the requests to share space with other schools were denied without notice or public discussion. It is filing two complaints with the state Education Department and a civil rights suit in federal court against the city Education Department, alleging that children's constitutional rights to an adequate education were violated.

De Blasio also faces a legal challenge from the other side of the issue. Public Advocate Letitia James said her suit to block the 36 shared spaces that de Blasio approved will go forward.

The mayor has said his administration's actions will hold up.

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