Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'


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After all this jaywalking and snowstorm silliness, the next big fight for mayor de Blasio is his first campaign promise: To raise taxes on those making half a million or more annually by 0.5%, or $500, and use those funds to pay for universal pre-kindergarten for city residents. This tax increase would have to be approved by the state, and governor Cuomo doesn’t much like the idea because it would make him extremely unpopular with upstate Republican legislators that de Blasio is not beholden to. Cuomo retorted by saying he’d just pay for pre-k out of state funds, deflating de Blasio’s righteousness somewhat.

There’s a snag, though: Costs for universal city pre-K are estimated to be around $340 million a year. Cuomo’s state budget only offered $100 million a year in his initial “phase-in” counter-proposal. When de Blasio balkedCuomo offered a “blank check.” The thing is, as neither the city nor the state can run a deficit, the rest of that money has to come from somewhere. In this, Cuomo has three choices:

  1. Raise taxes. This is exactly what he’s trying not to do.
  2. Divert money from upstate expenditures to the city. This will also make him unpopular with upstate Republicans, and generally isn’t something New York governors are often wont to do – neither Cuomo’s father nor former governor Pataki chose this option if they could at all help it.
  3. Divert money from city expenditures to this initiative.

And there lies the rub. Cuomo’s telling de Blasio, “see, I’m helping you,” but will have to take his pound of flesh from something else the city likely desperately needs. Such is the manner of political posturing between city and state, even among Democrats.

Fiscal conservatives usually retort to this claim by saying that we can “trim the fat” on city and state budgets in order to find the money needed to fill this gap, but the problem for this is twofold. One, “fat” is usually defined as whatever existing policy one is politically opposed to. Two, we’ve already been doing this for decades, which has likely been making the problem worse: There’s a reason the Transit Authority is chronically underfunded if not outright raided for funds. There’s a reason the Department of Education has seen annual 7% budget cuts. There’s a reason the Housing Authority desperately needs a shot in the arm to fix crumbling apartment buildings: They’re usually where politicians go to “trim the fat” such that they know the victims are not their core constituents or they hope the effects won’t be notable until they’re out of office.

There’s little benefit in getting pre-K if the funds are going to come out of something else equally important. Everybody knew de Blasio would have a fight on his hands when he promised to fight Albany, but he needs to keep the initiative on this, because if he loses it we’re just going to rob Peter to pay Paul. That’s not something the mayor will want as part of his legacy, to say nothing of what it means for New York’s most needy.

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One Response to “City-States”

  1. Cuomo’s Political Ambitions « Big Smoke
    on Jan 23rd, 2015
    @ 1:42 pm

    […] and easy, however, don’t make good plans. So what’s the real reason? As with Cuomo’s attempt to thread the needle with de Blasio’s plan to tax the rich to pay for universal pre-kindergarten, where he […]

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