As Abraham Lincoln may have said, you cannot fool all the people all the time. But a Republican candidate for state senator in the 39th District is trying.
Thomas Basile says people deserve better roads and bridges and he has a simple way to provide more money. He would more than double the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program — commonly known as CHIPS — to $1 billion. And he would do that not by raising taxes but by using funds that he says are now being “raided” by the state.
He has half a point. The money that the state should spend on infrastructure is woefully short. Much of the money that comes in from the gas tax, money that we all used to assume was going to streets and other needed infrastructure projects, is being diverted in different directions.
However, it is not a simple matter of redirecting some funds and fixing the roads. As Basile either knows or should know, the money is not sitting in a state bank account piling up interest. As anybody who has read the stories and reports coming out of Albany for years knows very well, $3 out of every $4 that goes into the fund dedicated to highways gets diverted to other state departments and especially debt service.
Even Basile should understand that the state needs to pay interest on the money it borrows.
It is very possible that money could be found in other parts of the state budget to fund the $500-plus million increase he envisions for the CHIPS fund. That should be possible in a state with a $150 billion annual budget.
So why hasn’t the Legislature already done this if it’s so easy? As Basile should know, a majority of legislators, including the Republicans who control the Senate, have to agree on the annual budgets and all the details, including the diversion of highway fund money and the amount in the CHIPS fund.
They never managed to find a way to double this amount and it’s unlikely a rookie senator will either.
He’s rounded up support from several highway superintendents. Of course they would like more money. Who wouldn’t? But where will it come from? Basile offers no clue as to which departments have more than they need or deserve less. And the only specific he does offer is misleading.
“It is typical of our state’s waste and dysfunction that we spend nearly as much money on tax credits for Hollywood studios than we do to help local governments pave roads.”
Even Basile should know a tax credit is not an expenditure. It is an agreement to collect less to attract more business. Eliminate the credit and while studios might continue to expand, as they have been, it is more likely that they would take their business elsewhere. That would mean a net loss for the state and localities, especially those in the 39th District where television and film work is thriving.
So why bring that up? It lets him contrast “Hollywood” with beleaguered New York property owners. But they are no fools and understand that everyone would lose following his lead.