NYC mayor asks lawmakers for more state funds, permanent mayoral control of schools

Government And Institutions Associated Press

Mayor Bill de Blasio, faced with a shifting leadership in the Legislature and an uncertain alliance with the governor, implored lawmakers in Albany on Wednesday to give New York City its fair share in funding and him more control over its schools and housing laws.

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De Blasio framed his budget testimony with the central promise of his administration, a pledge to fight income inequality, by asking for the state to devote some of its multibillion-dollar surplus to combat homelessness, improve schools and preserve affordable housing in the nation's largest city.

"It will only be possible for the city with a strong, sustained partnership with Albany," de Blasio said. "The moment has come for the city to get its fair share of state funding."

Repeatedly, de Blasio outlined examples when the city had not received the money it deserved from the state, noting that the city is home to 43 percent of the state's population yet pays 50 percent of its taxes.

He asked the state for an additional $300 million for health and safety improvements — a figure the city would then match — in the New York's public housing system, a vast network of buildings which house more than 500,000 people. With creating and saving affordable housing the centerpiece of his yearly agenda, he asked the state for a number of reforms, including strengthening rental protections and ending the practice of restoring rent-controlled apartments to market rates if they become vacant.

The mayor has also vowed to combat the city's homelessness problem — a record 58,000 people are in shelters — and asked for $32 million this year and more in the coming years for rental assistance. And he derided Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan that would eliminate funding that could have provided shelter for 500 people.

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That was not the only moment in which de Blasio challenged Cuomo, a fellow Democrat and professed friend who has repeatedly stood in the way of the mayor's agenda.

The mayor criticized Cuomo for "woefully underfunding" the budget of the regional Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for proposing a minimum wage hike that falls far short of the $13 per hour de Blasio wants and for suggesting that the state seize control of any struggling schools or school districts.

Rather, de Blasio asked that mayoral control of the city school system — which has to be renewed every few years — be made permanent.

"The fact is mayoral control already makes clear who is responsible for struggling schools in New York City: I am," de Blasio said. "I am fully accountable to the people of New York City, and if they do not believe I have succeeded, they will have the opportunity not to renew my contract."

Although de Blasio's list of requests was not overwhelmingly ambitious, he delivered them Wednesday with far sharper elbows than a year ago when, barely a month into his first year in office, he made his initial appearance before the joint Assembly-Senate budget hearing.

He spent that testimony asking for a tax hike on the rich to fund his universal prekindergarten program, a proposal that Cuomo dismissed. The governor instead decided to co-opt the issue and fund it via the state budget, a moment of political jujitsu that established a template for his uneasy dynamic with de Blasio.

The mayor upped his request for $370 million to fund an expanded pre-K program this year. He pointed to a $2.6 billion shortfall in state funding for New York City schools resulting from a recent Campaign for Fiscal Equality settlement.

A spokesman for the governor did not immediately comment on the mayor's testimony. But officials in Cuomo and de Blasio's administrations said the two men were scheduled to meet later Wednesday.

After his testimony, de Blasio was expected to meet with legislative leaders of both parties, including the Assembly's new speaker, Carl Heastie. Heastie was recently elected to replace longtime speaker Sheldon Silver, who was indicted on bribery and fraud chargers.

Silver was a reliable advocate for New York City and a staunch de Blasio ally, and his departure has raised concerns that the city's influence in Albany could wane.

The state budget, which will be settled by the Legislature and governor, is due March 31.