Bill de Blasio campaigned hard for mayor on the promise that he'd bring New Yorkers universal pre-K by taxing the city's wealthiest residents. It was a one-two political policy punch: dealing with New York's widening income gap while also addressing an area where many parents thought Mayor Bloomberg had come up short.
As a candidate, de Blasio saw pre-K and his millionaire's tax as inextricably linked. "There's no Plan B,'' he told reporters last October. But after the state budget was passed last night, the mayor has to admit that Plan B is actually working out pretty good.
Gov. Cuomo may have forced the conscious uncoupling of the mayor's proposed tax from his pre-K program which, in the end, could prove to be a blessing to City Hall. Tens of thousands of children will soon be getting pre-K care – largely on the state's dime. Universal pre-kindergarten became a given in the mayor's debate with the governor; it was only an argument over who would be footing the bill and the method of payment.
But this victory threatened to be overwhelmed by the mayor's fixation on the tax. While the revenue stream from the state is not dedicated or guaranteed, it seems highly unlikely that Cuomo will tinker with pre-k funding while he's governor. And the mayor's "latee tax" could always be proposed again if the city hits a rockier fiscal road.
Taking Plan B for an answer could be a pretty sweet thing for City Hall. With most of the funding in place, the biggest challenge for the mayor now is actually implementing the pre-k program. But a major political win could turn into a nightmare this fall. Just ask President Obama how that universal health care thing is working out.