Thursday, June 25, 2009

The perks of a "signature industry"

No sooner had the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee voted down a bill that would have allowed horse tracks to install video slot machines than disappointed supporters in the horse industry and their allies in the media began charging that the Senate had done them wrong.

The committee vote, said angry supporters of the bill, was the unfair result of "deception," "unfairness," and "sleazy politics."

And how can you blame them for being angry?

Imagine being part of the state's "signature industry" and having to endure the indignity of sitting through a meeting in which your opponents are given the same amount of time to present their case as you are.

Imagine having to listen to someone point out that people did not intend to vote for slot machines when they approved the Lottery in 1988, and that slots supporters like KEEP and Gov. Steve Beshear promised that they were going to "Let the People Decide," but were now saying something completely different.

Imagine having to sit there and watching as your detractors point out that your source for your claims that there are 100,000 horse jobs actually says there are only half that many, or that your bill will saddle the state with over a billion dollars in debt from school building earmarks that you won't be able to pay off, even after four years.

And how can any legislative body, in good conscience, allow people to say that Churchill Downs, which would have gotten the lion's share of the bailout money, reported an increase in net profits last year of 81 percent?

Or that Churchill Downs (which is owned mostly by out-of-state investors) pays its CEO more than $6,000,000?

After all, part of being the "signature" industry of a state is the right not to be disagreed with. Everyone knows that.

And not only that, but the Senate adamantly refused to give the bill special treatment. Unlike the House, where the committee that approved the bill only heard testimony from bill supporters during the session, and where votes were bought using school building money, the Senate instead left the bill vulnerable by forcing it to stand on its own merits.

The House at least understands how the state's "signature industry" ought to be treated.

Yes, some legislators, like Johnny Bell of Glasgow, were angry about being threatened in the House Democratic caucus meeting on June 16 with the denial of school building money if they didn't vote for the slots bill. But that's because they don't understand that it's not vote buying if the votes being purchased are for the state's "signature industry."

And even if it were vote buying, it would be vote buying "for the children."

It's hard enough to have to say with a straight face that you want a "level playing field" without the Senate letting people point out that you oppose the consideration of an alternative Senate proposal that would have given tens of millions of dollars for horse purses without expanding gambling.

And what about that voice vote in the House on the Senate's proposal, huh? It was a great maneuver to not only avoid possible approval of it, but to hide member's votes. What prevented Senate A&R Chairman from pushing it through using the same tactic? What, does the guy have scruples or something?

If the Senate weren't so unfair, it would have done what House leadership did last year when the same issue was being debated in committee and it took State Rep. Dottie Sims, who refused to commit to vote for the bill, off of the committee right before the final meeting so its passage would be assured.

See, that's the thing. Being the state's "signature industry" involves being able to do things that to some people seem underhanded, sleazy, and deceptive, but which you can get away with by just holding up your "signature industry" card and everyone just says, "Oh, okay."

But the chief benefit of being the "signature industry" is that you get to do these things yourself, and then accuse your opponents of doing them when they never actually did.

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