A one-word response this week from the Republican leader of the state Senate touched off a war of words among union leaders, lawmakers and the mayor of New York City, as the state Legislature on Tuesday continued to examine Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $137.2 billion budget proposal.
Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, on Monday said “no” when asked if he would allow a vote on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to fund universal pre-kindergarten, which calls for a tax on the city’s wealthy.
That spurred statements from labor unions and from his Democratic counterpart, Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx, who said Monday he wouldn’t approve a budget without the “vision” of de Blasio’s plan.
“I will not approve a budget that fails to realize the vision Mayor de Blasio and I share of providing high-quality, universal pre-k to the 50,000 four year olds who need it,” Klein said in a statement Monday. “Mayor de Blasio’s plan is the only one that provides New York City with the funding it needs to achieve that goal.”
Klein and Skelos, as part of their power-sharing agreement, must agree to bring a bill to a vote in the Senate.
On Tuesday, facing questions from reporters at an unrelated news conference, Klein suggested he could support a plan that didn’t include the de Blasio tax, as long as it had a steady funding stream to bridge the gap between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and de Blasio’s estimated price tags.
“I don’t think we’re holding up the budget over (universal pre-kindergarten),” Klein said. “I think what you’ve seen is we’ve raised the dialogue to a level that I think is very important.” He said he has never been “in favor of taxing people just for the sake of taxing people.”
Tuesday evening—after his remarks were widely reported in the media as cooling off his Monday statement—Klein took another stab at it, issuing a statement seeking to further clarify his position.
“I want an on-time budget this year, which is something I am very proud to have accomplished for the past three years,” Klein said. “As I have always said, I am not in favor of taxing just for the sake of taxing. But I wholeheartedly support Mayor de Blasio’s tax increase because it will adequately fund universal pre-k for New York City and that is why I am committed to making it a part of this year’s state budget.”
The state’s budget deadline is March 31, and the new fiscal year starts the next day.