Watchdog Group Criticizes Ritchie Over StipendPosted: Updated:
State Senator Patty Ritchie is one of seven state senators getting flack for taking a stipend that's allotted for being a chairperson of state senate committee.
Here's the catch though: none of the seven ran committees they took the money for.
While it's apparently legal, watchdog groups say that doesn't make it right.
"Lawmakers forget who's money it actually really is," said Blair Horner, executive director, New York Public Interest Research Group.
Since Friday evening, the big story in state politics has been Patty Ritchie and other senators taking money set aside for the heads of committees they don't run.
Watchdog groups like the New York Public Interest group say that stipend is there to try to compensate outside income people lose because of the time they put in running a committee.
"By giving it to someone else, you're violating the spirit of that. We don't like it, we've called on the senate majority leader to end the practice," said Horner.
Watchdog groups are calling for the end of this type of process. On Saturday, Senator Ritchie said she reached out to state leaders when she found out about the reports.
"They assured me that everything had been done legally," said Ritchie (R. - 48th District). "I do not make any decisions when it comes to stipends. That comes from the leadership."
"The law says the stipend goes to the committee chair. Not the vice chair, not the third vice chair, whatever new titles they want to come up with. That's what it's there for, that's the point of it, they should follow it," said Horner.
Ritchie received $15,000 of chairperson stipends for the health committee, which she doesn't run.
She would have received slightly less pay for her chair position on the senate ag committee.
However, you can only take a stipend for one chair position.
Ritchie issued the following statement:
"When I accepted the appointment as deputy Vice Chair of the Senate Health Committee earlier this year, I did so solely out of a concern for the deeply important issues involving health care for people living in rural communities like those I represent. Indeed, only today, those issues take on a sharper focus with the release of yet another alarming study that highlights the public health challenges facing rural communities, including decreased life expectancy and diminished health outcomes.
I believed that this appointment complemented my previous work to promote better public health, prevent and raise awareness of diseases like EEE and Lyme, enhance access to local hospitals and health care, improve mental health, and encourage outdoor recreation and healthier lifestyles for children, adults and seniors.
I did not ask for any increased compensation when I accepted this appointment, which is addition to 18 other committees, legislative commissions and task forces on which I currently serve. It was days later, after accepting, that I was approved for additional compensation for added responsibilities. That was a decision for Senate leadership, consistent with the law and past practices.
To me, public service has never been about making money or personal gain. I have and will continue to hold myself to the highest standards of honesty and ethics as I focus on the only issue that truly matters to me: finding ways to best serve the communities and people that I have had the honor and privilege to represent."