- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fellow Democrats in control of the state Assembly were poised to grant New York City authority to raise taxes on its wealthiest residents to pay for full-day pre-kindergarten - though the funding proposal still faced major hurdles at the state Capitol.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Monday evening his house’s budget proposal will include a provision giving the city the taxing authority de Blasio is seeking. Separate budget proposals from the Democrat-controlled Assembly and the Senate’s majority coalition of Republicans and Democrats are expected later this week.

Negotiations including the governor’s office will follow. A final budget is due before the new fiscal year starts April 1.

Approval by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature would be needed for the city to tax its residents earning $500,000 or more to fund citywide pre-K. Cuomo and Republican Senate leaders oppose the tax increase and the governor has said statewide pre-K should be funded through existing funds.

Cuomo repeated his promise Monday to fund statewide full-day pre-kindergarten programs as soon as they’re ready. And with state budget negotiations looming, some legislators who backed de Blasio’s plan are now calling for “a sustainable revenue source” for statewide early education without specifying taxes.

De Blasio, in an MSNBC interview Monday, said he’s open to an alternative source, but wants a “verifiable” city funding stream for $530 million annually for five years and he hasn’t seen it yet. Meanwhile, his wife Chirlane McCray postponed a scheduled Tuesday visit to Albany to lobby for his pre-K plan.

“The most available opportunity for learning is when kids are three and four years old. In this country and in this city we just don’t go far enough with early childhood education,” de Blasio said. His dedicated city tax surcharge would be more verifiable and consistent than leaving it to the vagaries of Albany and would cost high earners about $900 a year, he said. “That is the cost of a small soy Latte at Starbucks,” he joked.

Cuomo, interviewed later on WNYC radio, said the state will fund pre-K, and once established it will be practically impossible to close the new grade. A state budget law would be as permanent as a tax law, which could also be changed, he said, noting he and lawmakers previously extended the state income tax surcharge on high earners.

“We’re going to have a statewide pre-K program funded by the state. That’s what we said we’re going to do and that’s what we’re going to do,” Cuomo said. “I said all along that we’ll fund the need. … And as quickly as cities can bring it online, we will fund it.”

His proposed budget has $1.5 billion allocated for the program, Cuomo said. “The numbers are flexible; the commitment is not. … The real certitude is it would be practically impossible to begin funding a grade and then the next year say, ‘Johnny has to stay home this year because we’re not funding the class.’”

The 24-member Senate Democratic Conference, which had endorsed de Blasio’s proposal, issued a budget proposal Monday calling for sustainable pre-K funding for several years that “assures generations of 4-year-olds a full day experience.” They said the budget should also provide for full-day kindergarten statewide.

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Associated Press writer Michael Hill contributed.