- Associated Press - Friday, March 14, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The state Senate’s budget resolution includes $540 million for universal prekindergarten and after-school programs in New York City and additional funding for the rest of the state.

Though they lack the force of law, the one-house proposals from the state Senate and Assembly represent what the majorities want to see in the budget due April 1, which is being negotiated with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor said that now “real discussions can begin.”

Talks on a Senate budget resolution between a coalition of breakaway Democrats and the Republicans who control the chamber have been going on for days, highlighting the political differences within the group. Members approved the resolution early Friday.

The Assembly measure, approved Wednesday, would give New York City the authority to impose an income tax surcharge to residents making $500,000 to fund universal prekindergarten - a provision Mayor Bill de Blasio supports.

The Senate proposal would include at least $540 million a year over five years for city pre-K and after-school programs. That would cover the full costs of de Blasio’s ambitious pre-K rollout, but without the tax he sought. Another $145 million will be made available to districts for universal pre-K expansion.

Even before the resolution was released, de Blasio lauded the development as well as movement in the Assembly, led by Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“Their powerful support for our children and families - combined with Speaker Silver and the state Assembly’s passage of a resolution last night that includes a funding stream in the form of a tax on the city’s highest earners - represents a new consensus sweeping across this state,” de Blasio said in a statement.

Silver told reporters “I’m not married to a tax” for pre-K as long as the funding is recurring, sustainable and real. Cuomo, who is opposed to the tax, repeated his pledge that the state will meet each district’s need.

The Senate proposal also indicated it would modify the optional public campaign financing system Cuomo proposed in his budget, though the broadly worded statement did not specify how it would do that. Senate Republicans had been opposed to public financing of elections.

State Senate co-leader Jeff Klein said Thursday the Dream Act, which would Act would open up state tuition assistance programs to students in the country illegally, is not in the Senate majority coalition’s budget proposal.

“It seems to have some problems with votes,” said Klein, co-sponsor of the bill. “But I’m committed to make sure the Dream Act, which I support wholeheartedly, gets a fair vote in the state Senate.”

Cuomo said in a statement that the “main budget issue” would be addressing the profusion of local governments that drive up property taxes. The Assembly rejected his idea for a property tax freeze for homeowners in jurisdictions that enact consolidation or shared service plans. Cuomo signaled that he would fight for his plan.

“We must reduce the dysfunction and waste, not enable and subsidize it,” Cuomo said.

The Senate called for $800 million to support a plan to freeze property taxes for districts that adhere to a 2 percent levy cap.

The prekindergarten proposal was the centerpiece of de Blasio’s mayoral bid and has remained atop his agenda. He has proposed paying for it with a tax hike on the city’s wealthiest residents, a plan that went nowhere with Cuomo and the state Republican leaders.

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