NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday drove home his plan to fund universal pre-Kindergarten by taxing the wealthy in his first State of the City address, saying early education as well as paid sick leave and affordable housing are “priceless” to struggling New Yorkers.
In his first major speech since his inauguration on New Year’s Day, de Blasio revisited the vision of addressing inequality that helped him win a landslide victory, but he acknowledged the looming fiscal tasks ahead with a historic 150 municipal contracts unsettled.
In the midst of that unprecedented budgetary challenge, de Blasio recommitted to his signature issue of universal early education starting in September 2014, as well as after-school programs for middle-school students. It would be paid for with a tax on those earning over $500,000 - an average increase of about $970 for the wealthiest New Yorkers.
“To the young minds that we help shape, the pre-teen lives that we keep safe, the generation of working New Yorkers that we put on a path to success, it will be priceless,” de Blasio said in his State of the City speech at LaGuardia Community College in Queens.
De Blasio has rebuffed an offer by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, of $1.5 billion for full-day pre-school classes because such an arrangement would be subject to annual state budget decisions.
The unabashedly liberal de Blasio, who was swept into office on a pledge to end the “tale of two cities” created during the three terms of his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, vowed to turn the City University of New York into a workhorse to help drive New York’s burgeoning tech industry and growing health sector.
That includes strengthening the public university’s health programs and establishing a dedicated science, technology, engineering and math program, he said.
“Our aim is that within eight years, the majority of skilled technology-related jobs in New York City are being filled by those educated in New York City schools,” de Blasio said.
The nitty-gritty details of how de Blasio plans to fund his ideas are expected to be unveiled later in the week when he delivers his preliminary budget and may shed light on how he may handle upcoming contract negotiations with the city’s unions.
He reiterated on Monday his path toward a brighter future for needy New Yorkers, including the 46 percent of city residents who live at or near the poverty line.
He called for paid sick leave for an additional 500,000 New Yorkers, 200,000 more units of affordable housing and an entrepreneurship fund for low-income residents.
The mayor also repeated his pledge to issue municipal ID cards to almost 500,000 undocumented New Yorkers who need them to establish bank accounts, leases and other everyday contracts.
He told the crowd, which included a handful of New York Democratic luminaries such as former Mayor David Dinkins, that his path to closing the inequality gap was a “very New York option of taking on big challenges and getting results.”
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Nick Zieminski; Additional reporting by Zach Cook