A small piece of the proposed West Virginia budget for next fiscal year puts Governor Tomblin in an awkward position.
Lawmakers, in combing the budget for cuts and savings, decided to take away a portion of the money that would have been dedicated to the purse fund for dog racing. Opinions on the size of the actual reduction differ, depending on how it’s calculated, but the dog racing industry says it amounts to a cut of $4.1 million, or about 40 percent of the annual prize money.
“There’s no way to get a greyhound on the track with these numbers,” said Charleston attorney Alan Pritt, who represents the industry. He hopes the Governor will find some way to restore the cuts.
And that’s where it becomes politically problematic for Tomblin.
His family has a long history in the dog racing business. His mother Freda Mae Tomblin, who died in 2014, operated Tomblin Kennel, Inc. in Chapmanville for years and successfully bred racing greyhounds. The Governor’s nephew, Carl Tomblin II, is heavily involved in the operation of the kennel now and is listed as secretary of Tomblin Kennel, Inc.
If the Governor allows the purse reduction to go through, it will have a negative impact on a family business and friends who are in the industry, but if he tries to find a way to restore the cuts he faces potential criticism because of the vested interest.
Meanwhile, Pritt questions whether the legislature had the legal authority to reduce the purse money by creating a new line item in the budget called the “Licensed Racetrack Thoroughbred Regular Purse Fund,” inserting $10 million for the horse purses, but leaving out the dogs. He hints that a court challenge to the maneuver is possible if the Governor doesn’t fix it.
Some lawmakers believe the state should stop allocating any of the winnings at the casinos at the two dog tracks at Cross Lanes and Wheeling to the dog owners. They argue the purse fund and the additional $3.6 million allocated to the breeders constitute subsidies the state can no longer afford.
However, the breeders—and perhaps Governor Tomblin as well—believe the state made a promise years ago when the tracks added other forms of gambling that a portion of the proceeds would be used to support dog and horse racing.
The issue for the Governor and policy makers as the state faces challenging budgets for the next several years is whether that’s a promise the state can afford to keep.