There is discord and dissension in Albany over Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to tax wealthier New Yorkers to pay for his pre-k plan, as Dean Skelos, he Republican co-leader of the State Senate, says he will block a vote on that tax. Zack Fink filed the following report.
Dean Skelos, the leader of the state Senate's Republican Conference, gave a simple, one-word answer to a question about whether he would allow a vote on a tax for universal pre-K to even reach the Senate floor.
"No," he said.
That short answer set off alarm bells throughout the Capitol on the day that the mayor was delivering his State of the City speech.
"I don't understand why Senator Skelos would remove a viable option from the table at this stage of the budget discussion, aside from the fact that it's a home rule issue for the city," said Sheldon Silver.
Skelos explained why he thinks the tax is unnecessary.
"I think the governor has clearly indicated that you don't have to raise taxes in New York City," he said. "This isn't just a home rule issue."
Both Governor Cuomo and the mayor have called for universal pre-k. The mayor's plan would be just for New York City and include a tax on those making more than $500,000.
The governor's plan calls for statewide universal pre-k, but with state funds to pay for the individual programs and no tax.
In a statement, Independent Democratic state Senate co-leader Jeff Klein, who controls the Senate agenda in a power-sharing arrangement with Republicans, said, "I will not approve a budget that fails to realize the vision Mayor de Blasio and I share of providing high-quality, universal pre-k...Senate Republicans comprise a minority in this chamber."
State leaders are heading into sensitive negotiations, with a state budget due at the end of March. Working out pre-K and how to fund it has been a key sticking point, but one that was expected to be negotiated behind closed doors.
In a statement Democratic state Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens said, "Mayor de Blasio's priorities should not so easily fall victim to the oxymoronic arrangement under which the state Senate is ruled. Too many important issues have been blocked by a minority of senators empowered by the coalition leadership."
New York City union leaders also issued statements denouncing Skelos, as did various Democratic member of the legislature. De Blasio also responded, saying to deny a vote is just plain wrong.