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Cuomo to propose re-privatizing NYRA, but holding reins on funding

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a meeting of

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a meeting of the Long Island Associatin in Melville, June 3, 2016. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

ALBANY

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is set to unveil a bill Wednesday that would end state control of the New York Racing Association, but make the oft-troubled horse racing entity seek some of its funding through the state budget.

Cuomo’s bill would give the governor’s office control of four seats on a 15-member NYRA oversight board.

The flow of money and appointment of oversight members likely will be two flashpoints for the governor and state legislators as they negotiate a framework for reprivatizing the racing organization, which is supposed to happen later this year.

In fact, one key legislator said Cuomo’s proposal gives the governor too many appointees and doesn’t allot seats for representatives for the counties that host NYRA tracks, Nassau (Belmont Park), Queens (Aqueduct) and Saratoga (Saratoga Race Course).

“So he’s going directly against what the Assembly and Senate want,” said Assemb. Gary Pretlow (D-Mt. Vernon), chairman of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee. The governor would get just two appointments under a bill favored by many legislators.

NYRA has been under a state-controlled reorganization board for four years. During that time, it has gone from the financial red to black, posting profits in 2015 and 2014 after 13 consecutive money-losing seasons, according to reports.

The governor’s bill comes just a week before the scheduled end of the 2016 state legislative session and one day after one his appointees to the reorganization board quit and told the Albany Times Union that the administration has a “general dislike for racing.”

Cuomo’s proposal, which aides said would be formally introduced Wednesday, outlines specific circumstances that would allow the oversight board to step in and assert more authority, such as if NYRA’s liquidity were threatened. NYRA has a state franchise to operate horse racing at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga tracks.

In addition, it would hold back some of the proceeds NYRA receives from video slot machine revenue.

Currently, NYRA is getting about $120 million, with roughly half going to race purses and half for capital improvements and other costs. Shares for purses would remain unchanged under the governor’s proposal.

But instead of getting $60 million for capital improvements and other costs, NYRA would get $46 million. A separate provision would allot another $16 million, but it would have to be revisited every year as part of the state budget.

“It’s a check and balance” provision, a Cuomo official said.

In the Legislature, Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope) and Assemb. Carrie Woerner (D-Round lake) have proposed giving the governor just two board appointments and mandate one representative from each of the counties that host the tracks. It also provides voting representatives from the horsemen’s and breeders’ associations.

NYRA’s executive committee would appoint the majority of board members under either the governor’s or legislator’s proposal.

Time is short for hashing out the political differences: the legislative session is set to end next week.

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