Where we stand with Pimlico: A timeline
It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of Maryland racing and breeding is bound up with two bills now under consideration by the state General Assembly – and with a bevy of other actions that have been taken in recent months.
At issue: whether racing in the state will be centralized at a so-called “super track” at Laurel Park with a nearby training facility at a rejuvenated Bowie facility – and whether Pimlico will survive.
Here’s a timeline of the legislative session to date:
- Feb 4: Sen. Antonio Hayes, a Baltimore City Democrat, introduces SB 800. The bill would create a workgroup to determine how to fund a new Pimlico. Its House companion, HB 1190, is introduced four days later.
- Feb. 8: HB 1190 isn’t the only bill introduced on February 8. So are a pair of bills relating to the use of Racetrack Facilities Renewal Account (RFRA) moneys. HB 990/SB 883 is the critical bill, from the perspective of the Stronach Group, which owns the Maryland racing facilities. It would allow the company to enter into an agreement with the state-chartered Maryland Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO) whereby that organization would issue bonds to support the Laurel and Bowie projects. Those bonds would be paid back by a combination of Stronach Group funds and RFRA moneys.
- Feb. 8: Also introduced is HB 1070/SB 878, which would add Bowie to the list of facilities eligible for RFRA moneys.
- Mar. 1 and Mar. 6: The House Ways and Means Committee holds hearings on numerous bills, including the Baltimore-backed HB 1190 and Stronach-supported HB 990, on March 1, with the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee following suit March 6. In lengthy and occasionally contentious hearings, people representing the city of Baltimore plead with the Legislature to support the Pimlico study group legislation and reject the Stronach-supported MEDCO bill. Stronach Group representatives say they do not oppose the city’s proposed legislation but that passage of the MEDCO bill is vital to the Thoroughbred industry’s future.
- Mar. 12: On Off to the Races radio, Stronach Group chief operating officer Tim Ritvo says that moving the Preakness to Laurel would not have the impact on Baltimore that the city claims it would.
- Mar. 18: What’s known as crossover day comes and goes with no action in either house on either the study group bill or the MEDCO legislation. Crossover is an informal procedural deadline by which it’s best if legislation has passed one of the two houses to give it a shot of clearing the other and being signed into law. It is informal, however, so while failure to act by this point is a negative for the bill’s prospects, it does not necessarily mean the bill will not ultimately pass.
- Mar. 18: One bill that does cross over is SB 878, which simply makes Bowie eligible for RFRA funds. It passes the Senate 46-0. Also passing is another non-controversial bill which would allow the racecourse at Timonium to access up to $350,000 per year of RFRA moneys; it sails through the House 138-0.
- Mar. 19: The City of Baltimore raises the stakes yet further, filing suit to take possession, by eminent domain, of Pimlico Race Course, the Preakness, and all the assets of the Maryland Jockey Club of Baltimore City, Inc. The suit also seeks to preempt legislative action on the MEDCO bill by prohibiting MEDCO from issuing bonds to support the Laurel and Bowie projects. Were the city to succeed, it could put the entire Maryland Thoroughbred industry at risk by severing the Preakness from the rest of the racing year. It would also leave the city in possession of a decrepit Pimlico facility in need of hundreds of millions of dollars of work. The Stronach Group calls the suit “premature and unfounded.”
- Mar. 20: The Stronach Group releases a poll it funded that found that two-thirds of Maryland voters oppose spending more than $400 million of taxpayer funds on a new Old Hilltop, and, by a 55-28 margin, state voters prefer keeping the race in Maryland but moving it to Laurel versus keeping it in Baltimore. The Stronach Group says the poll shows that “the majority of Marylanders do not support the use of state dollars” to support Pimlico, but Baltimore Development Corp. president Bill Cole calls it a “push poll.”
- Mar. 25: Del. Nick Mosby, a Baltimore City Democrat, calls on two lawmakers who represent Anne Arundel County and who introduced the MEDCO legislation to withdraw their bills. Mosby says there should be no changes to the law until inspectors can gauge what he called “deplorable” and “shanty town” living conditions on the Laurel Park backside. One of those legislators, Sen. Pam Beidle, said she had never previously been asked by another lawmaker to withdraw legislation and would not do so in this case.
- Mar. 27: The Stronach Group, in a letter, asks the city to withdraw its lawsuit, claiming the city has no legal basis for the actions it seeks to take. That’s because, the Stronach Group claims, the state of Maryland “has exclusive authority over all aspects of racing, including as to eminent domain actions.”
- Apr. 8: At midnight, the Legislature will adjourn for the final time in 2019, barring the Governor’s calling of a special session. Legislation not passed by this time will be dead.