Senate proposes $2.7B for de Blasio’s pre-K plan, without his tax

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Sheldon Silver: “If they do it, it's done, as far as I'm concerned. It's a done deal. I don't need a tax,” (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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ALBANY—In its one-house budget resolution released on Thursday, the State Senate proposed funding pre-kindergarten and after-school programs at the levels requested by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, but without the mayor's preferred tax on high earners.

The Senate budget would allocate $340 million for pre-K in New York City in 2014-15, as well as $200 million to fund after-school programs in the five boroughs—funding that's actually $10 million more than what de Blasio aimed to raise with his tax proposal.

The Senate announced plans to commit $2.7 billion over five years for the New York City programs in its one-house budget resolution, which could pass as early as Thursday.

The Senate's plan also includes $145 million for pre-K expansion in the rest of the state during the next fiscal year, but the funding would be flexible, so schools could choose to use it for kindergarten or restore general state-aid cuts instead.

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To compare, the State Assembly, which passed its one-house budget resolution on Wednesday, authorized de Blasio's tax increase and also included $100 million for universal pre-K statewide. 

The Assembly's budget resolution proposed that the $100 million would be allocated using a competitive grant process similar to the one Cuomo used to distribute $25 million in full-day pre-K funds this year. The pre-K funding would increase over a multi-year basis, as it does under Cuomo's plan.

The resolutions are largely symbolic, but they signify a starting point in budget negotiations. As the April 1 deadline approaches, Cuomo will engage in hours-long, closed-door meetings with legislative leaders to hash out a compromise.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he would accept a budget without the pre-K tax, as long as funding for the program was adequate and distributed “without conditions, without attachments [and] without strings.

“If they do it, it's done, as far as I'm concerned. It's a done deal. I don't need a tax,” Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, told reporters Thursday.

De Blasio celebrated the one-house budget resolutions, both of which offer him a way to fund pre-K in New York City, in a statement Thursday.

“Under Conference Leaders Klein and Skelos, the state senate’s majority has put forward an unprecedented commitment to fund free, full-day pre-K for every child in New York City, and after-school programs for every middle schooler,” he said. “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.”

Cuomo, who has denounced de Blasio's call for a new tax, instead proposed to fund pre-K statewide with $1.5 billion over five years, starting with $100 million. At full implementation, the new funding would reach $500 million. Even added to the $400 million the state already spends on pre-K, the funding would be far less than recent estimates, which put the cost of pre-K statewide at $1.6 billion annually.

Cuomo later said he would find money to fund pre-K programs as fast as they were ready to launch.

“As we have said from the beginning, pre-K funding will ultimately be determined by each individual school district’s actual ability to create an eligible program on a timely basis,” Cuomo said in a statement Thursday. “Once it is determined that a plan is operational, the state will meet the locality’s need to that amount.”