NYS Exposed: Why are your tax dollars going towards cars for state Assembly members?

| WHEC (NBC Rochester)

Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars goes towards cars for state Assembly members.

Last year, the state spent almost $300,000 of your tax money on cars issued to members of the state Assembly. There are 11 elected Assembly members, eight Republicans and three Democrats who are assigned state cars.

Critics question why they need them and whether taxpayers should be footing the bill.

Five days a week, Kris Wagner takes the bus from the city to her job at the Wendy’s restaurant in Pittsford. She says she simply can’t afford a car.

“It’s kind of expensive to own a car because you have to pay for the gas,” says Wagner. “You have to pay for the insurance and all that, so it’s kind of hard to actually own a car.”

But it’s not expensive if you’re an elite member of the New York State Assembly. According to data from the Empire Center — a conservative-leaning think tank based in Albany — 13 state-owned vehicles were assigned to the Assembly and you’re paying for it.

“As a taxpayer — and my money every week that I work very hard for every week — goes to pay for their car, and to me it’s very concerning and makes me kind of mad.”

Eleven of the cars are driven by legislators, eight are Republicans, and three are Democrats. The other two cars are driven by Assembly staff members. According to the Empire Center, the cars cost you, the taxpayer, $284,000 with an additional $21,000 for maintenance and repair, and $19,000 for gasoline.

Ken Girardin of the Empire Center says, “We should have a transparent process that explains why the taxpayers are footing the bill.”

Girardin says there doesn’t seem to be any strict criteria to determine who gets a car.

Brett Davidsen: “Is it a proper use of their tax dollars?”

Ken Girardin: “Well, it really invites the question as to why certain Assembly members get cars and others don’t. Taxpayers would be right to ask the question why they’re getting cars at all for a part-time job.”

According to the data: four local members of the Assembly have state-issued cars: Majority Leader Joe Morelle and Minority Leader Brian Kolb are driving the 2015 Chevy Traverse, Bob Oaks and Steve Hawley have 2011 Chevy Impalas. Only Kolb would agree to answer our questions about the cars. On the phone, Kolb defended the practice, saying the cars are assigned to those in specific leadership roles that require “extraordinary travel.”

He told News10NBC, “Leadership positions tend to do more that work on behalf of the conference in terms of dealing with issues across the state so and again, it’s really a nature of their jobs and functions.”

Brett Davidsen: “Could you say, ‘No thanks, we don’t want the cars?'”

Kolb: “Oh sure.”

But Kolb points out those Assembly members who don’t have cars receive reimbursement at $0.57 per mile for their official travel.

Brian Kolb: “So there is a cost whether you have a state vehicle or whether you’re using your personal vehicle. It’s no different than any business expense.”

Assemblyman Peter Lawrence doesn’t get a car. He says he doesn’t want one. He believes it’s worth looking into whether the current policy is in the taxpayers’ interest.

Lawrence says, “What are we getting for the money we’re spending? If it makes sense from a financial standpoint then I’m all for it. If it doesn’t, then let’s take a look at it and do something that will make it better.”

© 2015 WHEC