DeFrancisco says pre-K funding battle could complicate state budget talks

Mar 4, 2014

The debate over pre-K funding in New York has pit Gov. Andrew Cuomo against New York City area politicians. But one influential Syracuse-area state politician is hoping it doesn’t get in the way of successful budget negotiations, which ramp up this month.

New York state has had an on time budget each year since Cuomo took office four years ago. Sen. John DeFrancisco hopes the pre-K debate doesn’t break that streak.

"It’s an issue that could be very contentious towards the end of the budget battle," DeFrancisco said. "I don’t think it’ll hold up the budget. But it is a real issue.”

The Republican notes there is still strong support for a plan to have pre-K in New York City funded through taxes on the wealthy.

“From some of the rhetoric that’s been talked about, Jeff Klein, who is a co-leader, says he’s not going to allow a budget to take place until we allow home rule for the mayor of New York City to raise taxes," DeFrancisco explained. "Now that’s a pretty strong comment. I think as time passes, as we get closer to the deadline, I hope he moderates that position and I hope we can work something out.”

At stake is not whether universal pre-K is a good idea, but where should the money come from to pay for it. Cuomo is proposing spending $1.5 billion over the next five years out of the general fund. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sides with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to fund classes in the city through increased taxes on the wealthy. DeFrancisco sides with the governor on this one, calling Silver’s priorities "out of whack."

"To say New York City is going to do it out of income tax from its highest wage earners, and say that upstate and central New York can pay for pre-K out of property taxes, he obviously doesn’t understand central New York," DeFrancisco said. "People are being taxed out of their homes.”

The senator also says he doesn’t think Cuomo will back down in an election year.

"It’s his way, from a political standpoint, to try to convince the legislature not to allow New York City to raise taxes," he said. "Because that’s a primary part of his whole campaign this year, is that he didn’t raise taxes, and he wants to be able to say that and not sign a bill that allows New York City to raise taxes, because he’s doing it indirectly.”

DeFrancisco thinks Cuomo’s plan will come out on top by the April 1 budget deadline, but is concerned about continued rhetoric calling for the New York City proposal. He says if the state has the funds in the budget to afford universal pre-K, then lawmakers should approve it without hesitation.