New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s State of the City address Monday night stuck to the progressive tenets of his campaign, demanding that New York City “tax itself” to fund affordable housing and universal pre-kindergarten programs.
De Blasio’s address promised a number of new, expensive programs for the city’s underprivileged, from ID cards for illegal immigrants to the always-controversial universal preschool program. His tone towards both Albany and Washington was defiant, condemning the “gridlock” of the latter and the “limits” of the former, imploring the city not to wait for either or to use their shortcomings “as an excuse for New York City to roll over and ignore our mission.”
On no topic was that defiance more on display than de Blasio’s campaign promise to establish a universal pre-kindergarten program for every New York child by raising the taxes of those making more than $500,000 a year. De Blasio acknowledged that his plan had caused some strife among Democrats; the plan was deemed too progressive even for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who preempted it by proposing a universal plan out of Albany that would not raise taxes.
De Blasio did not stand down because his peers found the plan unwise. He emphasized that New Yorkers outside the city would not have to pay more taxes: “We’re simply asking Albany to allow New York City to tax itself.” He added that the plan would ask almost an extra thousand in taxes from the targeted economic groups in question, “but to the young minds that we help shape … it will be priceless.” De Blasio did not mention what his education philosophy would do to damage the city’s charter school structures, already in danger early in his tenure.
The media had long expected the universal pre-kindergarten program to be a centerpiece of the mayor’s State of the City speech. As the nation’s journalists teeter on toward 2016, any controversy within either party becomes a major headline. De Blasio’s plan to increase taxes on the rich in such a way pushed Albany to try to preempt it, and it has yet to receive endorsements from prominent Democrats like New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. The disagreement among Democrats is not about whether a universal pre-K program should exist, as even President Obama pushed for one in his State of the Union address, but how to go about constructing it.
At least, unlike many of de Blasio’s plans, he has a way to pay for it, one that it appears even Democrats consistently disagree with, but a means nonetheless. The same cannot be said for his affordable housing push, his plan to provide all city workers with paid sick leave, or an Entrepreneurship Fund and Fashion Manufacturing Fund to give money to talented but poor, potential small business owners. It also cannot be said of the price of providing government IDs to illegal immigrants in the city, which would allow them more flexibility in opening bank accounts and credit cards and using government services.
The tax-the-rich plan for universal pre-K does not make up for the lack of planning anywhere else, but there were no signs that de Blasio was aware of the burgeoning confusion in his office due to such logistical shortcomings. Reports have surfaced that many trying to figure out city logistics have been stumped by de Blasio officials’ insistence that they just “be progressive”–with no further instruction.
“This is a team that knows how to execute its core responsibilities–while never losing sight of the fact that we’re called to be part of a larger mission as well,” he said of his administration. The repeated use of progressive rhetoric with no concrete plan in sight–most notably when discussing the survival of economically unviable hospitals in Brooklyn–gave an indication of how frustrating running a government with a philosophy but no plan might be.
If the speech is any indication of how de Blasio will run his administration, the Democrats in Albany, above all else, should be concerned. De Blasio has a progressive agenda mostly consisting of “be progressive; figure out how later,” which threatens to culminate in a storm of ad-hoc planning and budget spending failures that could force the state to pick up the city’s economic slack in the future. Cuomo’s reaction to the universal pre-kindergarten program already demonstrates his unwillingness to yield to de Blasio’s agenda, though the mayoral office is a powerful and a potentially problematic one for Democrats looking to win in 2016–no matter who the nominee might be.