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De Blasio urges tax hike on wealthy to fund pre-K education

New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio speaks

New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio speaks to the media after he delivered the keynote address at the New York City Summit on Children, organized by the Earth Institute of Columbia University, in Manhattan. (Nov. 25, 2013) Credit: Charles Eckert

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's first major speech Monday since winning election doubled down on a hallmark of his campaign -- that his early-education proposals be funded with taxes on the city's wealthiest residents.

The Democrat called the tax hike "the right path" despite criticism that state legislators would not approve the measure and a suggestion Monday by mentor and former Mayor David Dinkins that he alternately consider reviving the commuter tax.

De Blasio more than a year ago began calling for higher taxes on those making more than $500,000, to fund universal prekindergarten and after-school programs.

"It is a small addition to their local taxation. It will make a huge difference in the lives of our children, a transformational difference," he said Monday. "It will be an investment that we feel the positive result of for years and decades to come, if we get it right."

His Nov. 5 election margin -- 49 points -- gives him a "clear mandate," he said.

De Blasio delivered the keynote speech at the New York City Summit on Children at Columbia University, speaking for more than 25 minutes on inclusive education programs that he called the "first step toward a more just society for all."

Though his talk mostly rehashed his campaign positions without new details, de Blasio said he would soon announce an early-education "working group" of experts to analyze research and other cities' approaches to programs and financing similar to his aims.

De Blasio, in forming his administration as he prepares to take office Jan. 1, has disclosed his police commissioner candidates, but Monday admitted his search for a schools chancellor is not as far along and declined to name the contenders.

Dinkins, under whose administration de Blasio worked as an aide, suggested at the event that de Blasio consider the commuter tax -- to be paid by Long Islanders, among others, living outside of but working in the city -- to fund education programs because it could more easily pass in Albany. De Blasio said he appreciated Dinkins' input, but believes the tax on the rich is "the attainable path." He earlier said that the plan has allies in Albany.

Another de Blasio ally, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, has largely sought to cut rather than raise taxes and has been noncommittal on de Blasio's tax-the-rich plan, recently saying the issue is a "January conversation." Cuomo's spokesman did not return a request for comment Monday.

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