New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to tax the rich to pay for universal early-childhood education faces obstacles in the state capital in a year when Governor Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers are up for re-election.
The new mayor’s five-year plan to raise the city income tax on residents earning more than $500,000 annually needs state approval. Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, and Republicans who run the senate with a group of breakaway Democrats both say they support de Blasio’s call for pre-kindergarten programs. Backing a tax increase to finance it, they say, is another matter.
“We have said we’re supportive of universal pre-K; the question is, how do you pay for it?” said Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senator Dean Skelos, the Long Island Republican who co-leads the chamber. Skelos has said there’s room in the city’s $70 billion budget to fund the program.
De Blasio, 52, won election by the biggest margin for a non-incumbent in city history with a campaign that described a metropolis divided between rich and poor. The first Democrat elected to run the largest U.S. city in 20 years, he says taxing the wealthy to pay for early childhood education would help close that gap. His egalitarian theme has already captured national attention. After a meeting on job creation and economic fairness with President Barack Obama and other newly elected mayors last month, de Blasio emerged as the group’s spokesman.
The mayor’s proposal would generate $530 million over five years by raising taxes on income above $500,000 a year to 4.4 percent from almost 3.9 percent. For the 27,300 city taxpayers earning $500,000 to $1 million, the average increase would be $973 a year, according to the Independent Budget Office, a municipal agency.
“That’s less than three bucks a day -- about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks,” de Blasio said of the plan Jan. 1 when he was sworn into office by former President Bill Clinton. “We do not ask more of the wealthy to punish success; we do it to create more success stories.”
Alternative funding might be found in the state or city budgets, yet having the wealthy pay for the program fits the idea of ending the “tale of two cities” de Blasio described on the campaign trail, said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based political consultant.
The city’s richest 1 percent took home almost 39 percent of all earnings in 2012, up from 12 percent in 1980, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group in New York.
“Unless there’s a tax on the rich, it will not achieve its goal,” Sheinkopf said.