The right way to spend New York’s BNP Paribas windfall


New York state stands to reap billions from the fines paid by French banking giant BNP Paribas to settle money-laundering charges. The one-time windfall should go to address our urgent capital-construction needs, including the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement — and to undoing a decades-old fiscal gimmick that continues to hamstring the Thruway Authority.

BNP Paribas’ settlement with the Justice Department, the Manhattan DA’s office and state regulators should yield $2.2 billion to $3.2 billion for the state, says E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center. This huge “one-shot” can make a permanent difference — if used wisely.

I’ve asked a basic question from the start of my campaign for governor: Is New York winning or losing? We stand at or near the bottom in rankings among the 50 states. We have the highest taxes, the worst business climate and the highest energy costs. Over 400,000 people have fled New York in just the past four years.

We need to take many actions to fix what ails New York’s economy. One urgent task is to fix our deteriorating road, bridge and mass-transit infrastructure. Whether you are a straphanger or a rail commuter downstate or a motorist traveling rutted highways and rusting bridges upstate, the problem is clear.

The BNP Paribas windfall should be intelligently applied to urgent road and transit capital programs so that New Yorkers get a long-term benefit from this sudden infusion of money.

The Tappan Zee Bridge replacement is an urgent need. Gov. Cuomo has thus far refused to reveal how he plans to pay for the project — and the obvious reason is that he doesn’t want to tell people what new bridge tolls will be.

Worse, he wants to tap into a state fund intended for municipal water and sewer environmental projects to redirect over $500 million in short-term loans for the Tappan Zee project. It remains to be seen whether the federal EPA or other state officials will agree to this unwise scheme.

A better approach would be for Cuomo to fix his father’s mistake.

Back in 1992, the state under then-Gov. Mario Cuomo transferred responsibility for the state canal system from the state general-fund budget to the Thruway Authority. This was a gimmick to tide Albany over one of its recurring fiscal crises.

Ever since, the gimmick has diverted Thruway motorist tolls to pay for the canal. Since 1992, over $1.6 billion in toll money paid by Thruway users has gone to canal operations and capital improvements.

It’s past time to return the canal to the state’s general-fund budget. Thruway tolls should only go for Thruway projects like the Tappan Zee Bridge.

The settlement windfall allows the state to take the canal back and repay the Thruway for two decades of capital borrowings incurred for the canal.

The Thruway would then have $75 million to $100 million each year to help pay for the bridge — which would also allow us to avoid new gimmicks like stealing money from the environmental fund.

The remaining settlement money — about $2.8 billion, once the canal debt is repaid — can then go to the state’s road and transit capital plans.

Fixing New York’s infrastructure is a necessary step in fixing New York’s economy. We shouldn’t let this opportunity pass.

Robert P. Astorino is the Westchester county executive and the Republican candidate for New York governor

Originally published by the NY Post, July 13

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