De Blasio faces skeptics, Cuomo included

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Bill de Blasio. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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ALBANY—After testifying about the need for a tax increase to accompany his pre-kindergarten proposal, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio fended off skeptical questions from legislators and the press about why his plan should take precedence over a competing proposal proffered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

During nearly two and a half hours of questioning, several Republican legislators asked whether the tax money—a projected $530 million a year—would be used to help the city resolve open labor contracts with over 100 unions. The mayor said projected surplus money in the city budget would be dedicated to this task, and the additional tax money would be kept in a “lock box” for education programs.

The two items are “like two ships passing in the night,” de Blasio said.

“I would assume that's all inter-related,” asked Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican who chairs the chamber's Finance Committee.

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“We are addressing our fiscal challenges based on the reality today," de Blasio said. "Before we have the opportunity for the kind of pre-K, the kind of after school we need, we still have the fundamental fiscal challenge to address. What we're doing conversely with the pre-K and after-school is adding a strategic component to the equation.”

De Blasio emphasized the home-rule nature of his request, and referenced that the State Senate last week allowed Ulster County to reimpose a part of its sales tax.

And he said that his plan alone would be adequate, despite “very productive conversations” with Cuomo about his intentions. The governor's executive budget outlines $100 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year for pre-Kindergarten expansion statewide, and a $1.5 billion commitment over five years. De Blasio said he “humbly disagree[s]” with the assessment of a top Cuomo lieutenant that he was pushing a tax for a tax's sake.

Asked about Cuomo's plan, de Blasio said he assessed the need at $530 million, and “that specific amount of money is not accounted for in any plan but our plan.”

The mayor and the governor, former colleagues, then sat next to each other at an event in Cuomo's ceremonial office, asking the federal government to approve a Medicaid waiver that they say would help state hospitals to stay open.

Cuomo was asked whether he would commit to de Blasio's pre-K plan, and said, "I believe my proposal is the best proposal for the state, and I would be shocked" if the Legislature modifies it, he joked.

Cuomo then walked into his private office suite. De Blasio is continuing to meet with Legislative leaders through the afternoon.

-- Laura Nahmias contributed reporting.