Politics stifles needed racing aid

Improvements: Three layers of red tape could hamstring efforts to upgrade tracks.

May 26, 2000

YOU'D THINK fixing up Laurel and Pimlico racetracks with $40 million of improvements would be a straightforward deal. Not when the governor and state legislature get their hands on it, though.

There's so much bureaucratic red tape in place that there could be months of delay in beginning these renovations. These government-imposed hurdles could even prevent completion of the work before the 2001 Preakness.

Under a new state law, three separate agencies must approve the master plan for Pimlico's renovations -- the Maryland Stadium Authority, the Maryland Racing Commission and the city's Planning Commission.

Any of these agencies could hold up the project; altering a portion of the blueprint to satisfy one could mean postponements in gaining the approval of the others.

Then a fourth agency, the Maryland Economic Development Corp. must be given the go-ahead to float bonds backed by track revenues. That could take longer.

Compounding the situation is a need to do most of the outdoor work before winter sets in. Work will also grind to a halt as Pimlico's spring racing season heats up.

The stadium authority's role is so vague in the statute it could simply review the blueprints or try to micromanage the project; the racing commission's power is so broad it could nit-pick the project to death if it so desires; and the city Planning Commission -- which could have the biggest say about what's built at Pimlico -- isn't even mentioned by name in the statute.

The racing commission must take the lead in expediting approval of racetrack renovations. It should closely coordinate with the other agencies to get construction started soon.

No one gains from needless delays. The losers would be those who use the tracks -- the horsemen and the paying customers.

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