39th District Senate Candidates Debate
James Skoufis vs Tom Basile
By Edie Johnson
In a debate at the historic Ritz Theatre in downtown Newburgh the hour or so long position dialogue was generally informative and polite, besides a few well-placed “zinger” responses. Both candidates tipped their hats to Senator Bill Larkin, praising his decades long service. Basile, along typical republican values, spoke several times about the dangers of making government larger, especially New York government. He argued “I don’t believe the most corrupt government in the country should have more power and more money”. Skoufis agreed about corruption in Albany, criticized Basile’s emphasis on the need to retain a republican majority and emphasized his long record of working across party lines, repeatedly saying he would be “a senator for all the people”.
The barbs being occasional civility prevailed. But there were a few hoots, applause, one ‘boo’ and occasional cheering. Like when Basile referred to the Skoufis proposal to use a portion of retail tax income to offset high property taxes, and Basile retorted that “I can promise rainbows and ponies too. But where is all that money going to come from?” Later, Tom Basile said he was “for” medical marijuana, but “not for” recreational marijuana, because “Why should we encourage another potentially addictive habit.” Skoufis retorted back “You can OD on beer. But you can’t on marijuana.”
Other areas they disagreed on were school funding, college cost relief, relief of property tax burdens, physician-assisted suicide, outside pay for legislators, extension of child victim’s rights to retribution, discretionary fund distribution, pro-life and pro-choice beliefs. But in general they were not as far apart as one might have expected. Skoufis said he was against outside pay for legislators, especially given the 70-80 hours a week he often puts in. Basile said he would rather see “citizen leaders”, such as small business owners, “We need more regular people, like those right in this room.” But he agreed that there should be limits on outside income, and he vowed not to take any per diem pay , saying “You serve and then you get out.”
As for health care, Skoufis was strong on the benefits of a single-payer system, noting the billions of dollars that health care and insurance companies expend on advertising, money that could be spent on patient care instead. He said “I get calls about people struggling to get coverage on health care bills all the time. But I never get calls from people on medicare, because they don’t need to advertise. A single-payer system takes out the profit element. Basile’s positions was that the more choices there are, the better it is for the health care recipient, and that competition is good for pricing. Both were in favor of support for college tuition costs, but Basile criticized Skoufis on it saying “This whole business about ‘free’ is nonsense.” Skoufis said he thinks it’s unfair for a good student not to be able to attend college, and pointed to NFA as one of the first “Free” schools in the nation. His plan would be more directly sponsored by government, though he pointed out that there are a LOT of criteria involved. Basile was more favorable to increasing benefits of “well-deserved” scholarships.
In all the debate was lively, well-received, well moderated by Barry Lewis and Ken Hall of the Times Herald Record. Most stated positions were eloquently described by the two well-informed candidates.