Horse racing industry stages rally to buck Gov. Wolf’s plan to raid its trust fund

The groups says the move to take $204 million from a $250-million fund would result in “the end of horse racing in Pennsylvania."

  • Christine Vendel/PennLive

(Harrisburg) — The Pennsylvania Equine Coalition on Sunday staged a rally to buck Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent proposal to gut a program that benefits racing and instead use the money to help students with college tuition.

The criticism from the industry and its supporters isn’t over the governor’s desire to help college students. But rather, they say the move to take $204 million from a $250-million fund would result in “the end of horse racing in Pennsylvania by eviscerating the primary funding source for the purses and breeder incentives that serve as the lifeblood of the industry,” according to Pete Peterson, executive director of the coalition.

Sunday’s rally from noon to 3 p.m. at the Equistar Farm in Annville, was planned to “fight back,” and raise awareness of the consequences of Wolf’s proposal.

In rolling out the idea last week, Wolf said during his budget address: “Let’s bet on our kids instead of bankrolling race horse owners.”

Governor Tom Wolf arrives at the Capitol to deliver his 2020-21 budget address on Tuesday, February 4, 2019.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

Governor Tom Wolf arrives at the Capitol to deliver his 2020-21 budget address on Tuesday, February 4, 2019.

The legislature would need to approve the transfer of the tax dollars going to purse winnings, and redirect them to this scholarship program.

The rally featured several people involved in the horse racing industry, including breeders, veterinarians, farmers, horse racing association leadership and Pennsylvania legislators.

As an added bonus, legendary Pennsylvania-bred racehorse Smarty Jones was there, among other horses.

The Wolf administration anticipates the program would help at least 25,000 students annually pay their tuition and related costs after other financial aid sources are deducted. The catch is for every year, up to six years, that a student receives need-based assistance, they must remain in the commonwealth or the scholarship converts to a loan.

Justify (1), with jockey Mike Smith up, crosses the finish line to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race and the Triple Crown, Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Elmont, N.Y.

Peter Morgan / AP Photo

Justify (1), with jockey Mike Smith up, crosses the finish line to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race and the Triple Crown, Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Elmont, N.Y.

But Peterson said losing the fund would devastate an industry that provides $1.6 billion in economic impact and supports 16,000 or more jobs in agriculture, manufacturing , construction, retail and hospitality industries.

Newly elected Sen. Dave Arnold, R-Lebanon, said the Republican-led Legislature is “deeply troubled” about the impact of proposed cuts to the Race Horse Development fund.

The good news, Arnold said, was that the budget proposal was just that: a proposal.

“There is plenty of work to still be done,” Arnold said.

 

PennLive and The Patriot-News are partners with PA Post.

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