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De Blasio says King pre-K testimony proves point

Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies before a legislative

Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies before a legislative budget hearing in Albany on Jan. 27, 2014. Credit: AP

Mayor Bill de Blasio, pressing his battle for a tax hike on the wealthy, Wednesday seized on the state education commissioner's testimony a day earlier that universal prekindergarten classes would cost nearly three times what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has budgeted.

De Blasio called Commissioner John B. King Jr.'s remarks, made Tuesday before a State Assembly budget committee in Albany a "clear validation" of the mayor's position that pre-K ought to be funded with a New York City tax increase on incomes above $500,000, as de Blasio has proposed, instead of with money from the existing budget, Cuomo's preferred method.

King, who is an appointee of the state's Board of Regents and not the governor, put the statewide cost at almost $1.6 billion a year.

"I think this is a clear validation from our top state education official that it takes substantial resources to do this right," de Blasio said at a news conference. He added: "Now, the plans that have been put forward in Albany as alternatives to what I've talked about don't even come close."

Cuomo, a Democrat who like members of the legislature is up for re-election this year, has proposed $1.5 billion in state funding spread over five years.

De Blasio says that funding the pre-K program from the state budget would jeopardize its stability because it would be subject to the annual vagaries of the budgeting process -- a view Cuomo disagrees with. The mayor said his income tax plan -- an increase of 0.5 percent on high incomes -- would provide a far more reliable funding stream. The increase, like nearly all city taxes, would require approval from the State Legislature and Cuomo.

Cuomo's office Wednesday declined to comment but referred to the governor's previous remarks that any estimates about the cost of the program are just "guesstimates . . . because no one really knows." He says that the state is willing to pay for however many pre-K seats the city can offer.

King said Wednesday in a phone interview that his $1.6 billion estimate was a costliest-case scenario under which every eligible child participated and all seats were available and staffed. Earlier, he issued a statement saying that for logistical reasons, "It's not possible to provide full-day pre-K for every student in September" of this year.

Separately Wednesday, de Blasio released a list of a dozen additional supporters of his pre-K plan, including leaders in business, law, real estate and academia.

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