BY LUIS GRONDA
In his first State of the City address since being elected, Mayor Bill de Blasio laid out several key initiatives he hopes to pass in the future.
Among the plans the Mayor discussed at LaGuardia Community College on Monday include free universal Pre-K, living wage expansion and asking Albany to let NYC set its own rate for the minimum wage. This was the second consecutive State of the City Address held outside of Manhattan, with Bloomberg’s final address held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
De Blasio began the address discussing income inequality, one issue prominently featured during his campaign. He said access to affordable housing, good paying jobs and affordable health care is becoming scarce because of the shrinking middle class.
“We understand that allowing the income gap to stretch further isn’t simply a threat to those at the bottom – but to every New Yorker,” he said. “And we also know this: New Yorkers’ personal commitment to tackling inequality knows no boundaries of geography or income.”
His first mention of paid sick leave drew a loud applause from the audience. De Blasio and the City Council agreed last month to expand the initiative to give paid sick leave to 500,000 more New Yorkers.
He citied the example of Queens resident Kathy Delahoz, who refused medical treatment after being in a car accident. Instead of the treatment, she went back to work because she did not want to lose a day of pay.
“Under the expanded Paid Sick Leave legislation, New Yorkers like Kathy won’t lose pay just because they put their health, or the health of their kids, first,” the Mayor said.
Universal Pre-K, a focus for the new Mayor, also drew loud cheers from the crowd.
He said he wants to raise taxes for those earning higher wages and put the program into effect this September.
“For those making between $500,000 and a million dollars a year, that means an average of about 970 bucks. But to the young minds that we help shape, the pre-teen lives that we keep safe, the generation of working New Yorkers that we put on a path to success; it will be priceless,” de Blasio said.
The Mayor also announced for the first time that he will ask New York State to allow the City is take control of its minimum wage rate. This is part of de Blasio’s plan to raise wages for low-income workers in the City.
Following the speech, State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Long Island) said he would not allow de Blasio’s Pre-K plan to come to a vote on the Senate floor.
Supporters of the plan, including Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), released statements criticizing the senator’s comment.
“New York City needs a dedicated source of funding for universal pre-kindergarten. For Dean Skelos to say he will prevent a vote on this issue is very short sighted. Study after study has shown that children who receive early childhood education perform demonstrably better later in life than those who don’t receive it,” Dromm said.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R- Ozone Park), while agreeing with the majority of the Mayor’s plans, does not see eye-to-eye regarding Pre-K and paid sick leave.
Regarding paid sick leave, he said it would not create jobs for the City’s small businesses.
“In order to thrive, I don’t think imposing unfunded mandates on them is going to be particularly helpful,” he said. “It’s going to be disincentive for them to hire additional employees or retain the employees they already have.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz was complementary of the Mayor’s address in a statement sent out following the speech.
“His speech focused on the need to make sure our city continues to have a growing and vibrant middle class. Since the start of the Great Recession more than five years ago, the size of our middle class has been squeezed thanks to spiraling costs on one hand and stagnant wage growth on the other,” she said. “To his great credit, Mayor de Blasio has focused on five major points to address this crisis by improving education, increasing affordable housing, easing access to health care, expanding sick leave and living wage laws and promoting immigrants’ rights.”
Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) echoed Katz’s sentiments, highlighting the Mayor’s Pre-K and income inequality initiative.
“It is critical that we lay the foundation for our children to succeed by ensuring universal pre-kindergarten becomes a reality and every middle school student has access to after school programs. For far too long, we have avoided dealing with our inequality gap head-on,” he said.
Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @luisgronda.