Hang in there, Mayor de Blasio

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The wolves of Wall Street are out to destroy New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's universal pre-kindergarten plan (UPK).

The plan was a centerpiece of de Blasio's election campaign last fall. He won with 72 percent of the vote.

UPK, when enacted, would provide full-time pre-kindergarten to over 50,000 children who currently receive part-time or no pre-k. More than 73,000 four-year-olds will benefit from UPK when it is fully implemented.

To pay for it the City of New York is calling for a five-year income tax increase from 3.876 percent to 4.41 percent on those who make over $500,000.

This tax increase on wealthy New Yorkers will bring in $530 million a year to fund the plan. This price tag is less than what a New York state judge determined New York City schools are owed in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit seeking more funding public schools.

For the UPK measure to pass it must be approved by the state legislature and there is real opposition including from Gov. Andrew Cuomo who is opposed to any new taxes.

This tax increase is smaller than what the legislature in Albany has granted the three previous New York mayors for priority issues. It is an increase of slightly more than 0.5 percent.

For someone with an annual income of $600,000 (or $50,000 a month), the increase would be an extra $500 in taxes annually.

Rather than tax the rich, the governor's proposal is to use the state's budget surplus to pay for pre-k statewide. Pre-k should be available to all the children of the state. But Mayor de Blasio argues that if it relies on the state budget surplus and not a dedicated tax, as soon as the economy dips and overall tax revenues decline, we can say "Goodbye pre-k." A dedicated tax will insure it stands regardless of the ups and downs of the economy.

According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), New York state has one of the least regressive tax systems in the country. Combining all state and local taxes, all but the top 1 percent pay at roughly the same rate. The richest 1 percent, essentially those with incomes over $500,00, pay substantially less: roughly 4 percentage points less.

The bottom line is this: Under the de Blasio proposal, those making over $500,000 would still be paying a smaller percentage of their total income (for all state and local taxes) than the other 99 percent of New Yorkers. The de Blasio proposal is perfectly reasonable.

The wealthiest New Yorkers will still get a better break on state and local taxes than the average working person.

But the governor and the wolves of Wall Street are campaigning hard against UPK and they are using the excuse of charter schools to do so.

Keep in mind that the hedge funds who back for-profit charter schools are making money. In fact Eva Moskowitz who runs 22 charter schools in New York including the "Harlem Success Academy" makes over $475,000 and her for-profit schools get subsidized by New York taxpayers through millions in public school funds and tens of thousands of square feet of space in public schools rent free and at the expense of public school children.

The de Blasio administration is not opposed to charters. In fact the mayor points out that of the 17 proposals to put additional charter schools in public school space this year, his administration approved 14 which included five schools run by Moskowitz, who is the main person behind multi-million-dollar media ads against the mayor.

The Board of Education denied three spaces to charters because they would have replaced space used by disabled special needs children. The attack ads keep running even though the administration has pledged to find spaces for them.

There is a lot of talk in the media that UPK is dead. I say "Hang in there, Mr. Mayor". This battle may take time but it can be won.

This struggle is just beginning. The voters knew what they were voting for when they elected de Blasio. They want the best for the children of our city. We have not fully heard from most of them.

We also have not heard from the majority of families of the 1.2 million students in public schools that support UPK, are starved for funds and have been squeezed out of their spaces by hedge fund backed charters.

We have not heard from the 100,000-plus teachers and other organized workers and their families.

These folks are very supportive of many of the mayor's policies including finding a way to give public workers a raise.

As the mayor said in his recent Albany speech, "The facts are on our side. The people are on our side. Now we have to get Albany on our side."

Hang on, Mr. Mayor. Keep standing up and call on the people. Don't back down. The people have got your back. This battle can be won.

Photo: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio talks with children after reading them a book in a pre-kindergarten class at P.S. 130 in New York, Feb. 25. De Blasio stopped by the classroom after a news conference about his plans for universal pre-kindergarten in New York City. Seth Wenig/AP

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