CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As legislators prepare to close a $300 million gap in the state's 2013-14 budget, I can show them where they could find an extra $100 million a year of revenue -- if they had the guts to pull the trigger.
For the just-completed 2011-12 budget year, the Lottery transferred $106,580,235 to the state thoroughbred and greyhound purse and development funds.
That's no typo. That's $106.58 million to subsidize the horse and dog racing industries in the state.
For thoroughbreds, that included $69.66 million of revenue from racetrack video lottery and $10.16 million from table games.
Greyhounds got $24.99 million from racetrack video lottery, and $1.75 million from table games.
At some point, the Legislature will have to decide whether to continue to subsidize these not-entirely-savory industries to the tune of 50 cents on the dollar, or put taxpayer dollars to better use.
That's particularly true as competition from bigger, glitzier casinos closer to major population centers in three neighboring states puts the squeeze on West Virginia's racetrack casinos.
It is doubtful that Mountaineer Casino in little, out-of-the-way Chester can survive long-term, and if Wheeling Island survives, it will be as a greatly diminished operation catering to locals. Likewise, Nitro's Mardi Gras Casino will feel the hit when competition opens and expands in Columbus, Ohio, this fall.
Only Charles Town looks positioned to survive the onslaught intact, with its top-shelf facilities, proximity to metro D.C., and with no plans currently for a Maryland gaming facility that would present direct competition for gambling dollars.
It always surprises me that the public can get worked up over a proposed $20 million a year subsidy to get Century Aluminum reopened, or a one-time "Brewster's Millions" style spending spree of $23 million in federal stimulus funds, but isn't outraged over the state's subsidy to date of $1.2 billion (that's billion with a "B") of the horse and dog racing interests.
Speaking of the budget deficit, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney continues to display a disturbing lack of understanding about state government, despite being into his second year now running for governor.
In a press release, Maloney seems to suggest that the budget deficit suddenly materialized on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's watch, stating, "Even Earl Ray's own budget memo can't hide the facts of his failed record as the budget dives toward a deficit."
Which is a nice sound bite, until you look at the facts.
In fact, ever since then-Gov. Joe Manchin instituted six-year budget forecasts as part of the state budget process in 2005, the deficits have been looming in the out years -- and for the same reason as the 2014 deficit: soaring health-care costs.