He hasn’t taken office yet, but Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio is already pushing for his proposal to establish universal prekindergarten in the city, and pay for it with a tax hike on wealthy New Yorkers.
His campaign, UPKNYC, kicked off last Thursday in Brooklyn. It is spearheaded by a group of prominent de Blasio supporters including celebrities Cynthia Nixon, Olivia Wilde and John Legend, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Roger Altman, a former deputy treasury secretary, and Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
De Blasio’s proposal, which tops his list of campaign promises, is to fund universal prekindergarten in public schools through raising the city’s tax rate to 4.41 percent, from 3.87 percent, on income over $500,000. It would need the approval of the state Legislature and Gov. Cuomo, who has been hesitant to support raising taxes on higher incomes in the past. The campaign began with an ad, featuring a voiceover by Chirlane McCray, de Blasio’s wife. It will seek to push New Yorkers to lobby their state legislators in favor of the tax.
“I believe that an absolute necessarily step forward for this city is to achieve the tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers so we can have full-day pre-K for every child and afterschool for every middle-school child,” de Blasio said at a press conference Thursday. “And we will proceed vigorously to get that done in Albany.”
Supporters of the proposal say prekindergarten available to every child in New York would help children in lower-income homes, who tend to have less access to pre-K and would put those children on a more equal standing with wealthier kids later in life who have greater access to early education. But opponents say the tax hike on the rich may lead to wealthy residents leaving or de-investing in the city.
Nevertheless, de Blasio has public support on his side. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 63 percent of New Yorkers support de Blasio’s plan, including 68 percent in the city.
De Blasio has said he had no “plan B” to fund a citywide prekindergarten program without the tax.