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Lawmakers Want to Reduce Governor's Influence at NYRA

Legislative budget plans reduce governor-appointed board members from six to two.

New York lawmakers are formally pushing back over how Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to end the New York Racing Association's five-year period in which its operations have been controlled by a Cuomo-dominated board of directors.

Lawmakers, in separate, one-house budget plans unveiled late March 13, reduce the number of positions Cuomo would get to fill on a new, privatized board of directors. Significantly, they also reject Cuomo's plan to give broad new powers to a state panel that already oversees NYRA's finances.

The proposals now will be the subject of negotiations between the Legislature and Cuomo as the sides rush to complete a state budget before the April 1 start of the new fiscal year.

If no deal is made, the NYRA question will be punted until the end of the legislative session in June when the issue will be resolved or, as seen the past two years, the current state's control will be extended for another year.

The new plan was scheduled to be adopted March 14 in the Senate, but a crippling snowstorm forced cancellation of the two house's session. The new legislative plans are now expected to be OKed by both houses on March 15.

On the makeup of the board of directors to run NYRA, Cuomo proposed that he get six appointees on the new NYRA panel, two of whom would be selected by the leaders of the Assembly and Senate. Cuomo's plan called for eight seats to be filled by the selections of the eight current NYRA board members who serve on its executive committee. A final 15th member would be the president of NYRA. The New York Breeders Inc. and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association would get one board seat apiece, but their representatives would have no voting powers.

The Assembly and Senate also propose having 15 members on a new NYRA board, but both houses call for full voting powers for the two representatives of the breeders and horsemen. Each would let the existing NYRA executive committee select eight members and include Cuomo's plan to let the NYRA president serve on a new board. Instead of choosing six seats, Cuomo would get only two appointments under the Assembly and Senate plans. And the legislative leaders from the Senate and Assembly would get one appointee apiece.

The Senate plan adds in a demand that three of the eight NYRA executive committee selections must be a full-time resident of each of Nassau, Queens, or Saratoga counties—the locations of NYRA's tracks. Additionally, the Senate would, like the Assembly, let Cuomo pick the first board chair, but the Senate plan requires that selection be approved by a majority of the new board members.

Cuomo in January proposed adding strong new powers to the state's Franchise Oversight Board, a panel created in 2008 by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The panel reviews and approves some parts of NYRA's annual spending, but Cuomo, in his budget proposal, seeks to give the oversight panel, a majority of which is appointed by Cuomo, ways to control NYRA's finances, including what lawmakers say could be the diversion of proceeds that now go to NYRA from the Resorts World New York City casino at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The Cuomo plan gives the oversight board the ability to impound money from NYRA and force "corrective action" if, in its opinion, NYRA has "deviated materially" from its own financial plan. The board could also step in if it deems there to be a "significant risk to the liquidity" of NYRA.

Lawmakers in January said the Cuomo plan for the oversight board to act was too vague. In the newly released one-house budget plans, the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led Assembly both strip out the oversight board's additional powers proposed by Cuomo, a Democrat.

The separate legislative budget plans also eliminate Cuomo's proposal to permit nighttime racing at Belmont Park.