12/11/2007 12:00AM

Bruno still critical of NYRA

EmailJoseph Bruno, the New York Senate majority leader, continued Monday to criticize the agreement between Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the New York Racing Association that would extend the association's franchise for 30 years.

The current franchise expires on Dec. 31. The agreement would give the state uncontested title to Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga, but the Senate has not joined the governor and the Assembly in approving it. Instead, Bruno, a Republican, has suggested forming a new public commission to award licenses to operate the tracks and any casinos that would be part of the business.

In a statement Monday, Bruno said Spitzer ignored a request last week for a "public leaders meeting to discuss the future of horse racing in New York," and said representatives of the legislature and governor's office should be meeting every day until an agreement is worked out. Any agreement needs approval from the Senate as well as the governor and the Assembly.

Officials in Spitzer's office did not return phone calls Tuesday.

Negotiations have been taking place for several weeks, according to officials involved in the process, and the 30-year extension has been a key issue. Both Spitzer, a Democrat, and Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the Assembly who is also a Democrat, have supported the 30-year provision, which NYRA officials have insisted upon.

In his statement, Bruno said he would continue to reject a 30-year extension for NYRA, which filed for bankruptcy last year and would receive $75 million from the state under the extension to help pay its debts. As part of the bankruptcy, NYRA has challenged the state's ownership claim of the three tracks.

New York legislators typically take hard-line negotiating stances before their late session, setting the stage for some contentious horse trading in the final weeks of the year to secure passage of legislation.

"It should not be difficult to get a result," Bruno said. "What would be difficult is to simply extend NYRA's franchise for another 30 years, as the governor has proposed."

Bruno cited an audit by the state comptroller disputing the way NYRA calculates a fee paid annually to the state as a "vote of no confidence." Bruno also cited a preliminary probe by the State Investigations Committee into NYRA's award of a contract to the consulting company Getnick and Getnick that may have violated state prohibitions on no-bid contracts.

"The slate needs to be wiped clean," Bruno said. "The state should provide the funds necessary to clear up NYRA's financial difficulties and the governor should accept the resignations of NYRA's board of directors."