Horse racers, breeders hold rally after governor calls to use industry’s funding for college scholarships

Lebanon

ANNVILLE, Pa. (WHTM) – Some of Pennsylvania’s top horse racers and breeders held a rally to educate the public on the impact of horse racing.

In his budget address, Gov. Tom Wolf announced he wants to take the $204 million from the Race Horse Development Fund and put it toward college scholarships.

Organizers of Sunday’s event at Equistar in Lebanon County say that would do irreparable damage to the horse racing industry.

“It would decimate horse racing as we know it,” said Todd Mostoller, the executive director of Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “Horse racing would cease to exist in the commonwealth if the governor was successful with this proposal.”

Supporters say the horse racing industry has a $1.6 billion impact on Pennsylvania each year and is responsible for 20,000 jobs.

“This is not the state’s money,” said Brian Sanfratello, the executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association. “This is not taxpayer dollars. This is an agreement between the casino and us. The state already has their cut.”

The money comes from what the state makes from gamblers.

“When they passed the law, they basically said, ‘this money is going to go to horse racing unless we change that,’ so it’s not part of the normal budget,” said Nathan Benefield, the vice president and COO of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Sunday’s event at Equistar, which is home of Smarty Jones, was supposed to be a stallion show. But instead, horse racers and breeders talked with legislators and community members about the benefits of horse racing and breeding.

“This industry buys hay, alfalfa, straw from farmers,” said Sanfratello. “It purchases feed from feed companies … veterinarians, blacksmiths.”

Still, horse racing gets more than some state agencies’ yearly budgets. A Joint State Government Commission audit showed about half of the money ends up outside of Pennsylvania.

But organizers of the rally dispute that.

“Just because the owner may live in Maryland or California, that the money’s going out of state … that’s not the case,” said Pete Peterson, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition. “In most cases, the owner is losing money given the amount of money they have to pay to keep the horse. All that matters is where the horse is based. If the horse is based here in Pennsylvania, all the jobs flow from that horse.”

“It’s not who has the money, it’s where the money is spent,” said Sanfratello.

The governor wants to spend the money on students in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

“Usually, when we get in these budget debates, it’s like, ‘well, we’ll have to cut education funding. We’ll have to cut welfare programs.’ But, we have money to give horse racing prizes,” said Benefield. “Is that something that could alleviate the taxes on working families?”

Right now, this is just a proposal. It has to be approved by the Legislature.

The deadline for a final budget is June 30.

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