It should have come as no surprise that representatives of the dog and horse racing industries are predicting doom and gloom if West Virginia legislators trim the lavish state subsidies they receive.
In order to balance next year's state budget, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is calling for cuts in some of the gambling proceeds distributed by the state Lottery Commission. Part of the plan is to reduce state subsidies to the dog and horse racing industries, by 15 percent.
Tomblin has termed the proposal "a spending haircut," and he is right. Last year, the racing industry raked in about $87.6 million in subsidies from the Lottery Commission. A 15 percent cut would amount to about $13.1 million.
But representatives of the racing industry packed a legislative hearing on the matter Tuesday, insisting it will kill dog and horse racing in West Virginia. "It will destroy us," claimed Raymond Funkhouser, president of the Charles Town Horse-men's Benevolent Pro-tective Association.
More restrained - and probably more accurate - was Sam Burdette, head of the state Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association. "Truly, some of our members will go out of business if this is passed," he told lawmakers.
Indeed, reducing subsidies for the industry could force some horse and dog breeders and racers out of business. But so what?
Small businesses go under all the time in West Virginia. The difference between others and the racing industry is that no other business receives the enormous subsidies dog and horse breeders and racers enjoy. And other businesses do not enjoy the monopoly-like status granted the racers under state law.
Casino gambling at the state's four racetracks, in Wheeling, Chester, Charles Town and Cross Lanes, has suffered from out-of-state competition. But the vast majority of the casinos' patrons go there to play the tables or gambling machines, not to watch the horses and dogs run.
If anything, Tomblin and lawmakers should be looking at deeper cuts in horse- and dog-racing subsidies. Continuing the 15 percent cuts each year, rather than making them a one-time thing as proposed by the governor, could phase out the industry. That would leave Mountain State residents with nearly $90 million a year for other purposes - and rest assured, we can find excellent ways to spend it.