De Blasio allies plot a way around Cuomo

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Mayor de Blasio talks with students. (AP Photo/Enid Alvarez, Pool)
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Mayor Bill de Blasio's pre-K working group met in Midtown on Friday morning to plot a legislative strategy for the mayor's plan, in the wake of a competing proposal from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The meeting comes three days after Cuomo delivered de Blasio an ostensible victory, offering state money to expand pre-kindergarten programs across the state, but without the tax on high-earners that the mayor has said is necessary to sufficiently fund the program. 

De Blasio and his supporters continue to insist on the tax, and the strategy meeting on Friday, held at the Hotel and Motel Trades Council headquarters on West 44th Street, included representatives from CWA, DC37, the Building Trades Council and the United Federation of Teachers, a subset of the larger UPK NYC effort organized to push de Blasio's plan.

"This was a meeting … about how to harness grassroots support that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have for this plan,” said a labor source. “The meeting was about how to use that support to make sure leaders in Albany understand that this is something that folks in New York City want to get done."

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The source said the group is planning a massive day of lobbying in Albany soon, with thousands of people and coalitions rallying in support of de Blasio’s plan.

“The mood is very optimistic,” said another labor source familiar with the meeting. “The coalition has grown and solidified."

The meeting included over 100 people from different organizations and labor unions, including 1199SEIU, 32BJSEIU and the New York Central Labor Council, as well as pre-K providers and education advocates across the city, according to a labor source.

Key de Blasio allies are also part of the working group, including Jennifer Jones-Austin, the co-chair of de Blasio’s transition committee.

De Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are expected to travel to Albany on Monday to testify at a joint legislative budget hearing.

An advocacy source said attendees at today's meetings stayed positive, but were “daunted” by the new obstacle presented by Cuomo's proposal.

In his budget address on Tuesday, Cuomo proposed funding pre-K across the state with a $1.5 billion investment over the next five years, as an alternative to de Blasio's plan, which proposes a five-year tax hike for New Yorkers who make over $500,000 to generate an estimated $530 million annually. 

Cuomo has since questioned the need for de Blasio's tax, and his proposal puts the onus on de Blasio's supporters to justify the tax and force it into the budget process.

Last Friday, before Cuomo’s pre-K announcement, about 150 UPK volunteers, largely drawn from the powerful unions that have signed onto the campaign, took to the streets to pass out literature on de Blasio’s plan, and sign up supporters of the plan and its accompanying tax. That support will be used as leverage in lobbying efforts and negotiations with Albany.

The effort got a high profile boost last night, when Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren offered a full-throated endorsement for de Blasio's plan at a rally for liberal supporters in Manhattan.