New York City

Pre-K funding fight causes break in NY budget talks

March 21, 2014 By Josefa Velasquez Associated Press
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ALBANY— The Legislature’s top Republican hastily left budget negotiations Friday complaining that there has been too much emphasis on New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio when it comes to prekindergarten funding.

“So far as I’m concerned, we have a problem right now,” Senate Majority co-leader Dean Skelos said as he left the closed-door meeting. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders are trying to reach a budget agreement by the April 1 deadline.

“From the very beginning, I’ve indicated that I’m looking to have balance throughout the state when it comes to tax cuts, when it comes to education aid, and it seems that certain members in the room that represent another branch, their only concern is about New York City and Mayor de Blasio,” said Skelos, a Long Island Republican.

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Citywide pre-K has become a signature issue for de Blasio, who wants to fund it with a tax increase on city residents making $500,000. Cuomo and the Senate Republicans both oppose the tax hike.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he suspected he was the target of Skelos’ irritation and was unapologetic.

“I am focused on the education of students of this state and if the senator has a problem with that, that’s unfortunate,” Silver said.

The statements by Skelos and Silver were in stark contrast to the bland, broad affirmations of progress the leaders have been giving to reporters all week.

Silver went as far as to compare the Senate’s one-house budget resolution laying out their policy positions to fiction. He said he was unclear where the chamber, ruled jointly by Republicans and breakaway Democrats, stood on such issues as pre-K and a proposed corporate tax reduction.

“I’m not sure what the Senate proposed,” Silver told reporters. “It’s hard to read that resolution and read the fiction.”

De Blasio was set to be in Albany on Friday night for the Somos el Futuro Conference to talk about pre-K, among other issues.

Jeff Klein, the leader of the group of breakaway Democratic senators who caucus with the Republicans, said he didn’t think there was a problem and that legislative leaders were progressing toward a budget.

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