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News10NBC investigates state policy: If D.C. does it, why can't we?

February 18, 2019 11:27 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- When every single state senator in the Rochester area started work this year, they all had to layoff staff.

Many of them were paid to help people like you and your neighbors. 

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Why were they cut? It's because of a long-standing policy that gives less money to lawmakers if their party loses the election.  

When News10NBC started exposing this we found out it doesn't have to work like this.

Elections have consequences.

And if you're in the minority party in New York state, you get less money for office supplies and staff. But you always have the same number of people you're elected to help--people like Joy Getnick.

When her son Benjamin was born four years ago, she learned that newborns in New York state can go up to 45 days before their health coverage kicks in.

So she called her state senator -- Rich Funke. And after a year of hard work she, Senator Funke and his staff got the law changed. 

"So babies, as of January 2017, are now covered from birth," Getnick said. 

But when they worked together, Senator Funke was in the majority.

Because of last year's election, he's now in the minority and his office budget got cut by $100,00. 

"I didn't seek out Rich Funke. I called my representative and that's who it happened to be," Getnick said. "And I'm thankful he had the resources and the passion and commitment to fight for me. I don't know if every office can do that if they have pretty limited staff."

A long-standing practice says the office budget for lawmakers in the majority is $500,000. 

The budget for lawmakers in the minority is $400,000.

That's why Senator Funke's office staff went from 10 full-time and two part-time employees down to six full-time employees with one part-time employee.

Senator Funke, who represents a long east-side district from Irondequoit to Naples was unavailable to talk to News10NBC for this story. In an email, his chief of staff called it a "significant reduction."

  • Senator Pat Gallivan -- who covers Chili and Batavia -- cut five staffers. 
  • Senator Robert Ortt -- who represents Brockport and Albion -- cut five staffers. 
  • Senator Joe Robach -- whose district includes Greece, the City of Rochester and Brighton -- had to layoff staff. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "The reality being what it is, how do you deal with it now?"

Sen. Joe Robach, (R- Greece, Rochester, Brighton): "Yeah, so for me, what I can say is, I'm very fortunate. I have really worked with a bunch of people who are very dedicated, who have embraced my style. 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."

This does not happen in Washington, D.C.

News10NBC learned that members of the House and Senate have the same budget.

So Rep. Joe Morelle -- a Democrat in the majority -- gets the same amount of money for his office and staff as Rep. Chris Collins does-- a Republican in the minority. 

So why do we do it in New York state? 

"That's a long time historical tradition in New York state," said John Bacheller. 

Bacheller is a public policy analyst. He worked in the state Senate from the 1970s to the 1990s. 

So News10NBC asked him -- why is the money different? 

"Simply because the minority party has less do to on the policy side," he said.

Meanwhile, the majority party lawmakers chair the committees and make the laws. 

Brean: "Was this the case when you were working in the New York State Senate? 

John Bacheller, Policy by Numbers New York: "Absolutely. It has not changed. The only thing that's changed is the party in control."

Brean: "If it's a good system for Congress, why wouldn't we have the same system for the legislature in New York state do you think?"

Bacheller: "It's not necessarily a bad idea. I think you could offer minority more staffing. Whether there would be more productivity as a result of that, I don't know."

Getnick knows that when she went to her senator for help, she got it. But because Senator Funke was in the majority, there was more money for more help. 

"I think all citizens should be able to call offices with the same resources so that all voices are heard," added Getnick. "Obviously, on the state level, the majority is going to have more offices and more people and overall, more funding. But that shouldn't affect me."

The same budget rule is in the New York State Assembly but the Democrats have a super-majority, so it's not changing power like the Senate. 

Credits

Berkeley Brean

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

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