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What you need to know for 11/19/2017

Woerner, Marchione on same page on NYRA

Woerner, Marchione on same page on NYRA

The state Assembly and Senate now have matching bills that would return the New York Racing Associat
Woerner, Marchione on same page on NYRA
Jockey Eric Cancel heads toward the finish line at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 15, 2015.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

The state Assembly and Senate now have matching bills that would return the New York Racing Association to private control.

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, said she introduced a bill last Thursday that matches the Senate bill previously introduced by Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon.

The two legislators who represent the city worked together to craft the bills, to avoid the risk of there being competing proposals between the Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled Assembly.

“We are in lockstep,” Woerner said in an interview Tuesday in Saratoga Springs, just before announcing her plans to run for re-election in the fall to represent the 113th Assembly District. She will be seeking her second two-year term representing the district, which includes Saratoga and Washington counties.

Having both chambers pass the same bill will strengthen the Legislature’s hand in any final negotiations with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has a different privatization proposal.

The Senate bill introduced by Marchione is going before the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee today in Albany. It would have NYRA return to its prior status as a nonprofit organization devoted to racing. Marchione is a member of the committee.

Under the bill, a 15-member governing board would include four state appointees. Two would be appointees of the governor, and one each would be named by the Senate and Assembly leadership.

The bills would also give representatives of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association full voting powers on the board. NYRA would also have a representation on the board of those organizations.

Currently the breeders and horsemen are represented on the NYRA board, but the representatives are without voting power.

The plans also would guarantee that one board member represents Saratoga Springs, as has historically been the case. Nassau County, as home to Belmont, and Queens, as home to Aqueduct, would also be guaranteed representation.

“That’s where the tracks are located, so you have someone who has a local perspective serving on the board,” Marchione said.

The Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee has yet to schedule a vote.

Action on the bills in both chambers is expected before the Legislature’s scheduled adjournment on June 16.

“I don’t see any reason why we should not have it done by the 16th,” Woerner said.

The legislative bills differ from Cuomo’s proposal to reprivatize NYRA, which would continue to have nearly half the board members appointed by state leaders. Cuomo is proposing that the governor appoint five members, the Assembly and Senate, one each.

An influential group, Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing, has come out against the governor’s proposal, while endorsing the legislative version, because it puts more control into private hands.

NYRA, which operates thoroughbred racing tracks in Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga Springs, has been governed by a state-appointed reorganization board for the last four years, following years of management scandals and financial losses.

The original reorganization was to be for three years, but Cuomo in 2015 extended state control for another year.

Marchione said one of the difficulties with the current board is that all its meetings are open to the public, and there are times when the board may want to meet privately to keep information from competitors.

She also said a private organization can do more effective planning.

“Long-term planning is very difficult,” Marchione said. “You have to be able to look long-term at the improvements that are needed, and that’s more difficult with government control.”

The organization has made a profit the last two years. In April, the NYRA board cited that and other progress in calling for returning the organization to private control, though without endorsing a specific plan.

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