De Blasio asks lawmakers for more funds, control of schools
Mayor Bill de Blasio, faced with a shifting leadership in the Legislature and an uncertain alliance with the governor, implored lawmakers in Albany on Wednesday to give New York City its fair share in funding and him more control over its schools and housing laws.
De Blasio framed his budget testimony with the central promise of his administration, a pledge to fight income inequality, by asking for the state to devote some of its multibillion-dollar surplus to combat homelessness, improve schools and preserve affordable housing in the nation’s largest city.
“It will only be possible for the city with a strong, sustained partnership with Albany,” de Blasio said. “The moment has come for the city to get its fair share of state funding.”
Repeatedly, de Blasio outlined examples when the city had not received the money it deserved from the state, noting that the city is home to 43 percent of the state’s population yet pays 50 percent of its taxes.
He asked the state for an additional $300 million for health and safety improvements— a figure the city would then match — in the city’s public housing system, a vast network of buildings which house more than 500,000 people. With creating and saving affordable housing the centerpiece of his yearly agenda, he asked the state for a number of reforms, including strengthening rental protections and ending the practice of restoring rent-controlled apartments to market rates if they become vacant.
The mayor has also vowed to combat the city’s homelessness problem — a record 58,000 people are in shelters — and asked for $32 million this year and more in the coming years for rental assistance. And he derided Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan that would eliminate funding that could have provided shelter for 500 people.
That was not the only moment in which de Blasio challenged Cuomo, a fellow Democrat and professed friend who has repeatedly stood in the way of the mayor’s agenda.
The mayor criticized Cuomo for “woefully underfunding” the budget of the regional Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for proposing a minimum wage hike that falls far short of the $13 per hour de Blasio wants and for suggesting that the state seize control of any struggling schools or school districts.
Rather, de Blasio asked that mayoral control of the city school system — which has to be renewed every few years — be made permanent.
“The fact is mayoral control already makes clear who is responsible for struggling schools in New York City: I am,” de Blasio said. “I am fully accountable to the people of New York City, and if they do not believe I have succeeded, they will have the opportunity not to renew my contract.”
He also upped his request from $300 million a year ago to $370 million to fund an expanded pre-K program this year. He pointed to a recent Campaign for Fiscal Equality settlement that found the state had underfunded New York City schools by $2.6 billion.
Although de Blasio’s list of requests was not overwhelmingly ambitious, he delivered them with far sharper elbows than a year ago when, barely a month into his first year in office, he made his initial appearance before the joint Assembly-Senate budget hearing.
He spent that testimony asking for a tax hike on the rich to fund his prekindergarten program, a proposal that Cuomo dismissed. The governor instead decided to co-opt the issue and fund it via the state budget, a moment of political jujitsu that established a template for his uneasy dynamic with de Blasio.
It continued Wednesday. Cuomo held a rare public event in Albany at the exact time de Blasio was testifying and appeared with one of the mayor’s former political rivals, ex-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
He dismissed a suggestion that he was trying to upstage de Blasio — saying only a “twisted mind” would suggest such a thing — but immediately knocked down de Blasio’s request for permanent mayoral control of the schools, saying he preferred it be authorized on a temporary basis. He also outlined a pilot program to create prekindergarten for 3-year-olds, a year earlier than de Blasio’s plan.
The two men met for more than an hour late Wednesday; de Blasio deemed the conversation “productive” but said that no agreements were reached.
De Blasio also met with the Assembly’s new speaker, Carl Heastie. Heastie was recently elected to replace longtime speaker Sheldon Silver, who was indicted on bribery and fraud chargers.
Silver was a reliable advocate for New York City and a staunch de Blasio ally, and his departure has raised concerns that the city’s influence in Albany could wane.
The state budget, which will be settled by the Legislature and governor, is due March 31.
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