Our opinion: If New York City covers pre-K for its children, it will free up funds for the rest of the state. So what’s the problem?
The entirely legitimate discussion over how to provide pre-kindergarten to New York’s children has deteriorated into an utterly useless and self-serving debate over such nonsense as which areas of the state are the neediest.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wants permission from the state Legisature to use a special income tax on wealthy people who live or work in his city to pay for full-day pre-K classes in the five boroughs.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a different idea. He prefers to use money from the state budget to fund pre-K for the entire state, including New York City. No need to tax the rich — to whom the governor hopes to give tax cuts.
Detractors say Mr. de Blasio’s plan would just drive more of the well-off away from the state, shifting the entire tax burden on everyone else.
Mr. Cuomo added his own twist last week, arguing that pre-K should not be something only rich school districts can afford — implying, it seems, that Mr. de Blasio’s plan to have his city pay for its own program was an elitist approach that somehow harms the poor children of the rest of the state.
Mr. de Blasio didn’t help his cause by responding that pre-school children in the New York City are among the poorest in the nation. Immediately, mayors and state senators from across the state reacted angrily, saying they were offended by Mr. de Blasio’s remarks and that their communities were just as poor or even more impoverished than the Big Apple.
Lost in these sidetracks is this fact: Mr. de Blasio’s idea would help the rest of New York out, a reality that should be obvious to Mr. Cuomo, Senate Republicans, and upstate mayors.
The governor well knows that coming up with enough money to fund pre-K statewide from the tight state budget will be no easy task, especially when he’s also proposing a two-year program to freeze local property taxes while giving high earners a tax break. Mr. Cuomo’s executive budget doesn’t come close to fully funding pre-K statewide. His excuse — that universal pre-K would take some years to fully implement — only skirts the issue.
Here’s some simple math for the governor: Allowing Mr. de Blasio to pay for pre-K by taxing the richest people who live and work in New York City would cover 750,000 children. It would not only allow the mayor to honor a campaign promise; it would mean New York City doesn’t have to depend on the state for this particular chunk of aid. Put another way, the money New York City wouldn’t need would be freed up for the rest of the state’s school districts to implement pre-K.
And Mr. Cuomo would get credit for bringing about a smart, popular pre-K program without having to raise taxes, maintaining his image as socially progressive but fiscally conservative.
We fail to see a downside here — unless asking New York City’s wealthiest residents to pay a little more for the sake of a better future for New York and its children is what’s really troubling Mr. Cuomo.