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Assemblymembers assert upstate residents shouldn’t have to raise taxes for pre-k

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CANTON - North country assembly members disagree with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s view that upstate school districts should look to their own taxpayers to fund full-day pre-kindergarten programs.

Mr. Silver said earlier this week upstate school districts that need funds for universal pre-k programs can raise their property taxes.

“Upstate New York taxpayers are already strapped for cash, and the Assembly Speaker’s suggestion that upstaters can bear another increase in their property taxes is out of touch with reality,” Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush, R-Black River, wrote in an emailed statement. “To me his comments were callous, especially when the state has failed our public schools and students in so many ways.”

Mr. Silver’s statements were made in response to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s opposition to New York City Mayor William de Blasio’s proposal to fund prekindergarten by taxing the wealthiest in the city by dedicating $532 million from a proposed income tax surcharge on New York City residents earning over $500,000.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said Mr. Silver’s assertion that upstate schools raise their property tax yet again would be bad for local schools.

Ms. Russell said, however, that allowing New York City to have it’s own plan to provide pre-k will not hurt funding for schools in other parts of the state but could relieve some of the financial burden at the state level and improve budget constraints for schools in the north country.

“I think it’s better for New York City schools to support themselves. It would take some of the burden off people around the state,” Ms. Russell said. “The money that won’t go to New York City can then go to the rest of the state and that means more money for our districts here in the north country.”

Ms. Russell said she cannot fathom why anyone would argue that the rest of the state should have to pay for the schools in NYC to have pre-k. Ms. Russell said this could help people who don’t see the “effects of a rebounding economy, like members of the north country.”

Mr. Blankenbush said raising property taxes for upstate New Yorkers to pay for pre-k is not acceptable.

“This state does barely enough to help fund our public schools,” Mr. Blankenbush wrote. “We are left with a school aid formula that is patently unfair to upstate rural schools, and the state has yet to repay the money it took from them in the deficit closing gimmick in the 2011-12 budget.”

A clear problem with the plan, Mr. Blankenbush said, is that even with New York City raising money for it’s own pre-k, Albany still hasn’t addressed how funding this program will not be a strain on already strained budgets in north country schools — especially while continuing the gap elimination adjustment and imposing many unfunded mandates.

Mr. Blankenbush wrote, “It’s time for Albany’s leaders to address the struggles of our hard-working New Yorkers and take ownership of their failures to properly support education. We’ve had enough.”

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