When Governor Andrew Cuomo seized control of the New York Racing Association almost three years ago, he wrote a law putting the government in charge of the state’s premier racing. Under that law, the “Reorganization Board” of NYRA was given one specific responsibility: recommend legislation that would put the NYRA franchise back in private control by October 18, 2015. They failed to do it. Now the budget just passed by the Legislature extends state control for an additional year.
According to today’s Saratogian, NYRA CEO Chris Kay told the Wall Street Journal that a re-privatization plan “hadn’t been voted on by the board or presented to the state because of more pressing issues in Albany, such as state ethics reform.” Seriously?
Ethics reform was not even mentioned in the Governor’s State of the State and did not become a “priority” until Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested in January. Kay, who was hired on July 1, 2013, never made a public comment about his goals without mentioning the re-privatization. And NYRA has no role in the ethics debate.
The NYRA Board was presented with a proposed re-privatization by its General Counsel at its meeting on November 12, 2014. That meeting was a unique one in the history of the Reorganization Board because it was substantive and meaningful. It was also the last time the re-privatization effort was discussed with the exception of Kay saying there would be two Board meetings to discuss it, with the first one being in March. They now have not met in four months.
I am anticipating that NYRA may say it could not act because the Governor’s initial pick as Chair of the Reorganization Board had announced his resignation and a successor had not been named. The original Chair, David Skorton, announced last May that he had accepted an offer to lead the Smithsonian Institute, so the need for a replacement has been known for some time. It was not until yesterday, however, that current Board member Anthony Bonomo was announced as Skorton’s replacement.
When the original proposal for a government-takeover of NYRA was announced, I was shocked. Not because of any anti-government bias – I worked in government for almost 40 years – but because the state had no business in seizing control of a private enterprise. And that’s before we get to whether it had the competence to run horse racing. When they cannot accomplish their sole obligation required by law in 30 months, it will be little wonder if the public’s confidence continues to decline.