Astorino Critiques NY Dream Act and Pre-K

(Westchester County executive and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, with Center for Community and Ethnic Media executive director Garry Pierre-Pierre (seated) (Photo by Jiwon Choi/Voices of NY)

Rob Astorino, standing, with Center for Community and Ethnic Media Executive Director Garry Pierre-Pierre (Photo by Jiwon Choi/Voices of NY)

Rob Astorino, the Republican gubernatorial candidate and current county executive of Westchester County, met June 9 with journalists at a Q&A session sponsored by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

“What we’re hearing from everyone is how difficult it is to live in New York,” Astorino said. He charged that 400,000 people have left the state since Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office, thanks to high taxes, corruption and poor educational outcomes.

“It’s been a prison sentence to live in New York,” Astorino said.

The New York native is running on a platform of what he calls the three P’s: Protecting taxpayers, preserving essential services and promoting economic growth. He said a balance must be struck between all three.

Communities upstate are becoming ghost towns, he said. High taxes and overregulation are hurting business and driving it from the state.

“We have a government that’s become a stop sign,” he said. “It’s an opponent of business.”

Asked about his commitment to minority and ethnic communities in the state, he emphasized his efforts to hire and appoint minority candidates to lead county agencies. He also cited his relationship with the United Black Clergy on budget reform in Westchester County.

Astorino answered questions regarding the Dream Act, universal pre-K and the current threat to HUD funding in Westchester County with ongoing disputes over an affordable housing settlement and zoning analysis.

When asked about the Dream Act, Astorino said he does not support it but would support a Dream Fund where people could access private donations for tuition assistance.

The “pie” of tuition assistance for students is not big enough to take on the needs of an estimated 140,000 undocumented students in the state, he said.

The number of people applying for tuition assistance “would grow exponentially, very quickly, at the expense of people who are here” legally, he said, adding that it is not just Hispanics who could access the fund, but any undocumented student.

Astorino repeatedly called on the federal government to renew efforts to adopt immigration reform and said it cannot be resolved on a state-by-state basis.

A reporter referred to the disagreements between Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio on universal pre-K and asked where Astorino stands on the issue.

“Universal pre-K was set up to fail,” Astorino said. “Three hundred fifty million around the state is not going to have any effect whatsoever.” In order to get more money to move the program forward, he said, there will be a call to raise taxes.

“Either do it right or don’t do it,” he said. “You’re setting up babysitting in some cases rather than learning.”

Astorino said that New York needs to get back to basics and that K-12 is struggling throughout the state with some communities lacking even kindergarten. He added that kindergarten is not mandatory in the state of New York.

He called for higher K-12 educational standards, but called Common Core “a massive, untested experiment” and a one-size-fits-all solution.

Astorino did say that he is in favor of an education investment tax credit that would help families afford a private school of their choice, he said.

“My agenda is to make sure New Yorkers can live in New York,” he said.

He added, “Do not believe that higher taxes or more money equates to something better.”

Regarding the current federal settlement with HUD regarding affordable housing in Westchester County, Astorino said he believes in affordable housing and that the county has won many awards from HUD in the past.

Astorino maintained his defense that Westchester County is in compliance with the affordable housing settlement that requires 750 affordable units across 31 communities in the next seven years.

He said that an analysis by the federal monitor in charge of compliance in the settlement said there is no exclusionary zoning by race or ethnicity, a finding that Pace University confirmed.

The latest conflict is that HUD is now prescribing a new kind of socioeconomic analysis that says any overwhelmingly white community is by default discriminatory, Astorino said.

“They are equating demographics with discrimination,” he said.

Jennifer Lehman is a student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter.

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