We understand — given the shaky, shady financial and management history of the New York Racing Association — why the state would be reluctant to relinquish control.
But in the eight years since New York state took control over the organization, it’s righted its ship, gotten its financial feet under itself, and distanced itself from the corruption that plagued it for so many years.
So it’s encouraging that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as part of his State of the State address and executive budget message, has offered a proposal to finally allow NYRA to operate on its own.
But even though the governor’s plan is an improvement over previous attempts to settle NYRA’s status, it still retains too much control in the governor’s office and doesn’t relinquish enough control to the people most vested in NYRA’s success.
Under the new plan the governor announced earlier this week, the new NYRA board would be made up of 15 members, of which eight — the majority — would be selected by NYRA. The governor would appoint six others, as well as the chairman.
We have some problems with the plan.
Under the proposal, there are no assurances of local representation on the board. Local representation should be mandated.
Second, by allowing the governor to name seven of the 15 members (including the chairman), the governor still retains a significant stake in the body. The Legislature should also be able to make appointments. The Senate and Assembly each have committees that address racing and wagering issues, and each should be permitted a selection to secure a broader scope of government involvement.
Under the plan, representatives from the horsemen and breeders groups would be nonvoting members of the NYRA board. They should each have the same voting powers as the other members of the NYRA board. Really, what is the point of a non-voting member?
And fi nally, given its makeup of private, industry and government officials, the board should be able to elect its own chairman.
Allowing the governor to have sole discretion over the organization’s chairman, even if it’s just for the next three years, gives him too much control. If you’re going to trust the organization to start out on its own, it should be able to select its own leader.
The governor also should insist, as we’ve said in the past, that NYRA follow the same requirements for public transparency that are dictated by the state’s Open Meetings Law and Freedom of Information Law. That will allow the taxpayers, track customers, the legal community and the media to better monitor the organization for actions that might suggest a return to the bad old days.
Before other issues such as the share of casino revenue the industry receives, night racing at Belmont and shifting the cost of drug testing from taxpayers to the industry can be addressed, the NYRA board needs to be set up in a way that it can operate independently.
The structure that’s been proposed is close to where it needs to be, but it needs more work.