The bill sponsored by two local legislators to free the New York Racing Association (NYRA) from direct state control is a marked improvement over the bill proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Under the bill sponsored by Sen. Kathy Marchione and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (A10429/S7918A), the influence of the governor and Legislature would be diminished, compared to the governor's plan, in favor of representation from local counties and industry organizations.
In an editorial in April, when NYRA announced three potential restructuring plans, we recommended the new NYRA board include representatives from the three communities that host New York's racetracks (Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct), as well as the horsemen's group and others with a vested interest in the sport.
The Marchione-Woerner legislation does that by requiring a representative each from Queens, Saratoga and Nassau counties, as well as one each appointed by the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.
Under Cuomo's plan, the governor would get five appointments and the leaders of the Assembly and Senate would get one each. That would concentrate almost half the power in the three men in a room, and give the governor himself control over one-third of the membership.
If the NYRA board is to become truly independent from government control, that much power should not be placed in hands of three government officials, especially the governor.
So from the measure of local and industry representation, the local lawmakers' bill is an improvement over the governor’s.
We also agree with the bill’s requirement that the board establish committees to oversee such issues as NYRA salaries, equine safety, financial stability, facilities and racing quality.
But the bill lacks one essential item to make sure the association won't revert to its free-spending, mismanaged days: Transparency.
Under the legislators' bill, the NYRA board would not be subject to transparency requirements, as it has been under government control. That means its meetings could be closed to the public and its records sealed from public scrutiny.
The idea behind the government takeover and slow transition to privatization was to make the NYRA board accountable to the people it serves. How would the restructured NYRA be truly accountable if it's allowed to operate in secret?
Following the same regulations as the state open government laws would not prevent, as Marchione fears, the organization from purchasing property, making track improvements and negotiating deals. The board could still hold closed-door meetings to discuss transactions, employee records and sanctions, trade secrets, litigation and other sensitive matters, just as government boards can do.
The two lawmakers should amend their legislation to include the transparency requirement. They still have about two weeks before the end of the legislative session. There’s time.
Lawmakers then should pass the bill and the governor should sign it so the lucrative racing industry in New York can move forward.