Don’t Slash Local Funds

Worthwhile bills moving through the West Virginia Legislature with the goal of reducing state subsidies for the horse- and dog-racing industries have unpleasant side-effects for local residents. Lawmakers should remedy that before approving the measures.

Lower-than-expected revenue has forced Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislators to look for new sources of money for state government. One of the places they are turning to is the Lottery Commission.

As we have reported, the plan is to take about $39 million in legalized gambling proceeds and use it to help pay for state general fund spending. Of that total, about $8.5 million a year would come from money the Lottery Commission now pays in subsidies for horse and dog racing.

The only thing wrong with that idea is it is too conservative. The amount represents only about 15 percent of gambling proceeds that go to fund purses for winners at racetracks and to greyhound and thoroughbred breeders.

But another $4 million would be chiseled out of money that now goes to cities and counties. Tracks are located in Wheeling, Chester, Cross Lanes and Charles Town.

Wheeling officials learned this week the change would cut about $250,000 a year in the amount going to our city. Losses of proportional magnitude will be felt by Ohio and Hancock County commissioners, the city of Chester and local governments in the other two affected counties.

That is a lot of money to pull out of Wheeling’s budget in a single year. It is too much, in fact. Think of it this way: $250,000 represents the cost of four or five police officers.

Legislators should think again about the change. As proceeds from casino gambling decline, it may be necessary to reduce the amounts going to track-hosting cities and counties. That reduction should be made slowly, however.

When voters in the four affected counties agreed to allow casinos to operate, one of the things they were assured was that part of the proceeds would go to offset local government expenses resulting from gambling operations. Taking that money away is, in effect, breaking a promise made to voters.

Tomblin and legislators need to find more money. Why not increase the amount being cut from subsidies for horse and dog racing – instead of breaking that promise to voters?