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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Meadowlands Facing Shutdown

Now that the Meadowlands lease has been negotiated, you would think everything would be smooth running and the racing season would go on without interruption.  Well, you may be wrong.  The Meadowlands may be forced to close on July 8.

The reason?  The New Jersey state budget.  At this point, there is no budget in place for the next fiscal year which starts on July 1.  According to the New Jersey Constitution, if no budget is in place, the state government shuts down and along with that goes the New Jersey Racing Commission (NJRC).

With no racing commission, there can't be no racing.  At the current time, the state Democrats, after cooperating with Governor Christie for most of his term, is beginning to flex their muscles calling for additional spending and a tax increase on New Jersey's richest citizens.  Governor Christie, who is a pretty strict demagogue, has indicated he would vote against any tax increase.  Without a tax increase any Democratic budget proposal would not be in balance which would be unconstitutional, thus requiring a government shutdown.

While the racing industry does not have the protection given to the casino industry (actually the regulators being declared essential employees) after the last government shut down in 2006, the NJRC did pass a rule change which would allow the racetracks to operate for up to seven business days if there is a budget crisis and the Governor declares a 'state of emergency', provided the tracks filed their intention to stay open by June 1.  One would think the NJSEA would have filed the appropriate notice as a matter of routine.  This means if the Democrats and Christie cannot agree upon a budget by July 8, the Meadowlands would be forced to close. 

Now, this assumes a deal is not made in the next three days and an impasse lasted more than seven days.  Hopefully, a deal will be made in time to eliminate the threat of a shutdown.  However, being the racetracks pays for the operation of the NJRC, it shouldn't boil down to a commission rule allowing the tracks to operate for seven days in the event of a shutdown of the state government (this rule expires December 7, 2015). 

Once this budget mess is settled, steps should be taken to move legislation to give horse racing the same protection Atlantic City casinos are receiving which removes any possibility of a shut down in the event of a budget impasse as long as the racing industry is paying for the regulators anyway.  Hopefully, this becomes a priority even if the Meadowlands (and Monmouth Park) are not forced to shut down this year.  If the casinos are not a threatened by a budget stalemate, why should horse racing?


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