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De Blasio hammers home old points with State of the City

Stephon Johnson | 2/13/2014, 12:13 p.m.
De Blasio

The message is to stick with the message.

On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gave his first State of the City address at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. The speech did not stray from the campaign rhetoric the mayor used all last year. “A Tale of Two Cities” dominated the conversation, and de Blasio focused on bridging the gap between the “haves” and “have nots.”

“We’ve begun the fight to lift the floor for all New Yorkers … to improve the life conditions of those who struggle with great determination—not to get ahead—but merely to keep their heads above water,” said de Blasio. “And we’re fighting to give everyone a fair shot so that city government doesn’t set its priorities by the needs of those at the very top while ignoring the struggle of those born under a less lucky star.”

Some of those plans include ending the engagement in legal efforts to block living wage measures that have already been passed by the City Council. De Blasio wants to sign an executive order to expand coverage and work with the council to increase the number of living wage jobs offered by employers who receive city subsidies.

De Blasio and his administration will also seek state authorization to set its own minimum wage to what the administration believes is something more consistent with the needs of working people in New York City. But reports have cited that Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday that allowing cities to set a higher wage could create a “chaotic situation.”

Continuing his progressive agenda, de Blasio announced a plan to develop a municipal ID card that would serve as a form of identification to undocumented immigrants in the city who don’t have a valid state ID. In a joint statement, state Sens. Adriano Espaillat and Jose Peralta praised the move.

“We can’t let up the fight to accomplish what 11 states and the District of Columbia have already done—passing legislation giving immigrants the opportunity to earn legal driving privileges,” read the statement. “When we look across the country and see our neighbors in Connecticut, big states with major cities like Illinois and California and a deep red state like Utah all taking this sensible step forward, there is no reason why the issue remains unaddressed in New York.”

But much of de Blasio’s agenda in 2014 still centers on universal pre-K for all New York City children. Reiterating his plan to tax residents who make $500,000 or more and use the money to fund the program, de Blasio reminded elected officials in Albany that the state wouldn’t have to raise taxes at all.

“We’re not asking Albany to raise the state income tax by a penny to pay for universal pre-K and after-school programs here in New York City,” said de Blasio. “We’re simply asking Albany to allow New York City to tax itself—it’s wealthiest residents … those making a half-million or more a year. Raising taxes on the rich makes our commitment to our kids more than just words. It makes that commitment real. It makes that commitment fair.”

But New York state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has already gone on record saying he would block any vote on de Blasio’s plan to fund universal pre-K. Assemblyman Karim Camara, however, hopes Albany decides the plan’s fate as soon as possible.

“We owe it to every child to put this to a vote,” said Camara in a statement. “The need for universal pre-K has never been clearer. The achievement gap we see in lower income neighborhoods needs to be closed. The cycle of poverty, which is directly related to education, needs to end.

“A child from Crown Heights in Brooklyn or Mott Haven in the Bronx deserves the same opportunities to compete in school as a child from the wealthiest parts of the city,” continued Camara. “But by middle school, they are so far behind that college and career seem unreachable. That’s not right. We know it’s not right; and it’s certainly not right to stop such an important piece of legislation from coming to a vote.”

De Blasio was more succinct in his response to Skelos’ statement. “The gauntlet’s been thrown in Albany,” he said. “We will respond.”