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News10NBC investigates policy that forces NYS GOP senators to cut staff paid to help you

February 18, 2019 11:29 PM

NEW YORK, (WHEC) -- Elections have consequences. 

And one of the consequences for our area from last year's election is a loss of more than a million dollars that could be used to help people like you and your neighbors fix problems with the New York state government.

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Because of a state rule that goes back at least 50 years, state senators in our area, who are all Republican and now in the minority, have less staff and less money to help you. 

Let's illustrate this with the story of Benjamin Getnick. 

When he was born in 2014, his mother, Joy Getnick, signed him up for health coverage through the state's Child Health Plus program.

That's when she discovered, because of the application process, newborns like Benjamin went without coverage for up to 45 days. 

"And honestly, I thought that can't be right," Getnick said. 

So Getnick contacted her state senator, Rich Funke.

She and the senator's staff started working on a fix.  

"They had the resources and they committed their resources over about six months and it was arduous to try to understand why there was this gap in coverage," she said. 

Their hard work paid off.

In April 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Senator Funke's bill into law. 

"We were able to close the gap in coverage," Getnick said. "So babies, as of January 2017, are now covered from birth."

But when Getnick went to Sen. Funke, she and the Republicans were in the majority in the state Senate.

Now, they're in the minority and a long-standing state policy says lawmakers in the minority get less money for their office budget, $100,000 less. 

Here's the impact. 

There are six state Senate districts in Monroe County. All are Republican. So the total loss in office budgets is $600,000.

If we look wider, all but two state Senate districts between Buffalo and Syracuse are Republican districts. 

Twelve in all. 

So, what's the total budget loss? $1.2 million. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "Is this system fair?"

Sen. Joe Robach, (R- Greece, Rochester, Brighton): "Well, certainly anyone that knows me knows I would prefer a system where regardless of minority, majority, you got a certain amount of salary more similar to other levels of government."

Senator Joe Robach represents Greece, the City of Rochester and Brighton.

He had to cut staff this year. 

In his 16 years in the state Senate, this is the second time he's been in the minority. 

Sen. Joe Robach: "So I was sorry that we had to downsize some people. They've gone on to other things that they like, fortunately enough for me, all being very talented people, and we're making it work."

No one News10NBC spoke to in reporting this story can recall a time when a state lawmaker attempted to change this budget policy. 

The same rule applies to the New York State Assembly but unlike the Senate, the Assembly did not change hands in the election. 

Joy Getnick says she was surprised when News10NBC told her about the office budget policy for state lawmakers. 

"It's less that I'm worried now that if I called [Sen. Funke's] office, I won't get the level of service I expect. I know they're doing their best with the resources they have," Getnick said, "but it just shouldn't matter. I think all citizens should be able to call offices with the same resources so that all voices are heard." 
 
News10NBC just showed you what happens.

Find out why you why it happens on our story at 11 p.m. 

Credits

Berkeley Brean

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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