BERNSTEIN: Pre-kindergarten or pre-president?

Gov. Cuomo’s refusal to support Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tax proposal indicates his selfish motivations

Bill de Blasio, the newly inaugurated mayor of New York City, has made creating a universal prekindergarten system one of his top priorities. His program will be contingent on raising income taxes for the most affluent New Yorkers — those who make more than $500,000 a year. His main roadblock to implementing this tax program — and therefore universal pre-K — is the disapproval of current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Gov. Cuomo, who is more fiscally conservative than de Blasio despite being a fellow Democrat, has promised to lower taxes across the state; because of a projected surplus in the state budget, he recently announced a plan that gives $2 billion in tax relief to New Yorkers. It is very unlikely that Cuomo will grant de Blasio the legislative approval he needs to implement his NYC-specific tax hike.

Cuomo supports the idea of universal pre-K not just for NYC, but for the whole state of New York; however, he doesn’t support de Blasio’s tax plan and claims the money for pre-K will be found somewhere in the existing state budget. De Blasio has mentioned that carving money out of the budget for education also means that that money can be reallocated by legislators later on, whereas once de Blasio’s proposed tax is in place, it would not, like the budget, be contested each year, making universal pre-K a somewhat more protected program.

This alone shows that Cuomo’s support is theoretical at best. Given Cuomo’s expertise as a politician, he should know that a program like universal pre-K is practically unsustainable without raising taxes. Since Cuomo didn’t mention the cost of this new program or really address how it would be funded given his proposed tax cut, it’s hard to take his support seriously. If anything, Cuomo is just appeasing the base of the Democratic Party. Cuomo faces reelection this year, so he needs to maintain support from within the party, as well as support from moderate-to-right upstaters. So he can’t reject a progressive plan like universal pre-K, but he also can’t veer too far left by increasing spending. But more importantly, it is widely speculated that Cuomo has ambitions for the presidency — perhaps not as soon as 2016, but eventually — and he can’t come off as an overly progressive New York liberal in a national election. Tax cuts are generally more popular than tax hikes, so Cuomo’s new tax cut could serve him well in a national campaign.

Politicians sometimes work not in the best interests of their current constituents but in the best interest of their next campaign, and that seems to be what Cuomo is doing. He’s sacrificing a good and reasonable agenda purely for the sake of politics. The tax hike de Blasio is proposing is specific to New York City’s wealthiest residents and would have no effect on New Yorkers who can’t afford to have their taxes raised or on non-city residents. The only consequence of this tax — besides perhaps some grumbling from the one-percenters — would be a universal pre-K system for city residents, something that, as Cuomo himself has noted, would be extremely beneficial to children of the city.

But, ever aware of how raising taxes negatively affects electability, Cuomo would prefer to serve himself rather than his state, which is grossly unfair to his electorate. New Yorkers did not elect Cuomo in order to supply him with a stepping stone toward higher office. They elected him to serve their interests, and one way he can do so is by enhancing early childhood education programs.

The benefits of the tax hike are obvious and there are no significant drawbacks for the citizens of New York City — just potentially for Cuomo’s future election plans. But Gov. Cuomo’s job-title is not yet president of the United States, it’s governor of the state of New York. His work should reflect this title, not his own ambitions.

Dani Bernstein is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. Her columns run Tuesdays.


Published January 20, 2014 in Opinion





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