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New York Senate offers to fund signature de Blasio pre-K program

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio answers questions during a news conference at City Hall in New York March 11, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio answers questions during a news conference at City Hall in New York March 11, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

NEW YORK (Reuters) - State senators are offering New York City $540 million to fund universal pre-school and after-school programs in the coming financial year as they try to counter calls by Mayor Bill de Blasio to raise taxes on wealthy city residents.

The offer came in the Senate's budget proposal adopted on Thursday and is part of a larger $2.7 billion package to fund de Blasio's signature educational programs over the next five years without raising taxes.

De Blasio hailed the Senate's move as a step forward, calling it a sign of a "a new consensus sweeping across this state", but did not say if he would drop his calls to hike taxes on city residents earning over $500,000, a measure he would need state backing to implement.

"The state Senate's majority has put forward an unprecedented commitment to fund free, full-day pre-K for every child in New York City, and after-school programs for every middle schooler," de Blasio said in a statement.

De Blasio took office in January as New York's first Democratic mayor in two decades. His pledge to address inequality helped him to a landslide victory, gaining over 70 percent against his Republican challenger, Joe Lhota.

The Senate's budget resolution marks the start of intensive negotiations over the state's final budget with the leaders of the state Assembly, which passed its own bill earlier this week, Senate leaders, and state Governor Andrew Cuomo, who released a $137 billion executive budget proposal in January.

The state must pass its budget at the start of its next fiscal year on April 1.

The Assembly, controlled by Democrats, fully funded de Blasio's plans by including his wealth tax in their proposal.

Cuomo, a Democrat who is up for reelection in November, pledged $100 million state-wide for pre-school programs in the next school year, rising to a total of $1.5 billion over five years, well short of what de Blasio had asked for.

Although final funding for pre-school and after school programs could differ significantly from the Senate's proposal, the move shows Republicans, who control the Senate in a power-sharing agreement with Democrats, are willing to meet de Blasio half way if he drops his plans to raise taxes.

The Senate's proposal is also likely to be more palatable for Cuomo, who has pledged to reduce taxes by more than $2 billion statewide over the next three years. He kept that message front and center in a statement on Thursday.

"The main budget issue will be whether we have the will to do what is politically difficult and attack the waste and duplication of local governments that drive up property taxes," said Cuomo.

Cuomo has also taken a strong stance on supporting charter schools, a potential weak spot for de Blasio, who is facing heavy criticism over attempts to block three of the publicly funded independent schools from using space within New York City public school buildings.

(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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