12/07/2007 1:00AM

NYRA deal under discussion

EmailNew York legislators met this week to continue to negotiate over the fate of the franchise held by the New York Racing Association, according to officials in the office of Gov. Eliot Spitzer on Friday, though details about the substance of the negotiations remain unclear.

Paul Larabee, a spokesman for Spitzer, said that talks occurred this week between Spitzer's office and representatives of the Senate and the Assembly over a deal to extend NYRA's franchise, which expires at the end of this year. In September, Spitzer reached an agreement with NYRA to extend the franchise for 30 years in exchange for NYRA giving up title to Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga.

An official close to the negotiations said that a meeting was held Thursday night to specifically address the NYRA franchise, but spokespersons for the governor and Rep. Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the Assembly, would neither confirm nor deny that the meeting took place.

"All of the parties are aware of the urgency of finding a resolution, and there have been ongoing conversations," Larabee said. "As long as the parties continue to talk, there is hope for a resolution."

Dan Weiler, a spokesman for Silver, said that he could not comment specifically about the negotiations on Friday. "We will continue to have that policy until an agreement has been worked out," Weiler said.

NYRA officials remain optimistic that a deal will be reached to extend the franchise, based on the legislature's performance over the past several years, in which last-minute political negotiations on pressing issues are typically concluded in the middle of December.

Also on Friday, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an audit of NYRA recommending that the state put in place strict oversight controllers over the operator of the franchise, citing his office's contention that NYRA underestimated its franchise-fee payment to the state by $10.6 million in 2004 and 2005 and failed to pay $54 million in franchise fees to the state from 2000-2005. In a response, NYRA officials disputed the way that state auditors calculated the franchise fee.