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Gov. Wolf’s tuition plan would be a disaster for horse racing industry

(Editor’s Note: The below press release was issued this week by the Pennsylvania Equine Coaltion in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s request in his 2020-2021 state budget plan to have the Legislature take $200 million annually from horse racing purses and breeders awards in the Race Horse Development Trust Fund – derived from a percentage of slot machine revenue – and create a scholarship fund to benefit Pennsylvania students so they can attend state universities.)

As Gov. Tom Wolf came to Lock Haven University on Wednesday to tout his college tuition plan, Pennsylvanians are speaking out about the negative impact his plan — which will divert money from Pennsylvania agriculture — will have on jobs and the agricultural industry in the Commonwealth.

Supporters of Pennsylvania agriculture say Wolf’s plan for funding the new initiative would result in the end of horse breeding and racing and put more than 20,000 state residents out of work, eliminate an industry that delivers a $1.6 billion economic impact each year, and jeopardize hundreds of thousands of acres of open space.

“You don’t rob hard working families to give money away to those who have not earned it,” said local resident Randy Brungard, whose family owns the 360-acre Brungard Farm in Howard, Centre County, where they breed and are currently raising 22 thoroughbred horses.

He and his family can often be found in the barn before 6 a.m. and after 11 p.m. caring for the animals, especially during foaling season.

“The Governor’s proposal would bankrupt family-owned farms and leave as many as 20,000 hard-working individuals and their families without jobs. People don’t understand how big an impact this would have on our state’s economy, or what it will do to countless Pennsylvania families, farms, and small businesses,” said Brungard.

“When a horse wins a race, they earn purse money for their owner, which the owner then uses to pay the horse’s jockey, trainer, blacksmith, groom, veterinarian, and equine dentist, as well as buy hay and straw from farmers, feed from local feed mills, and supplies and equipment from small businesses. They reinvest that money in new barns and fencing on their farms that are constructed by local carpenters, and purchase horse trailers, tractors and farm equipment that are sold here in Pennsylvania. The economic impact is tremendous and far reaching.”

Over the years, horses born on the Brungard farm have raced at all three of Pennsylvania’s thoroughbred race tracks: Penn National Racetrack in Grantville, Dauphin County; Parx Racing in Bensalem, Bucks County; and Presque Isle Downs in Erie.

Brungard also owns a 2.5 percent ownership stake in Smarty Jones, a Pennsylvania-bred thoroughbred that won the Kentucky Derby and nearly won the Triple Crown. Smarty Jones is now standing at stud at Equistar, a breeding farm in Annville.

Equistar hosted an industry rally in opposition to Gov. Wolf’s proposal last Sunday that was attended by almost 500 people, including race horse trainers, jockeys, breeders, feed mill operators, hay farmers, and mushroom farmers.

“The income we earn from horse racing and breeding goes directly back into our local economy in Centre and Clinton Counties,” said Brungard. “The money goes to small businesses like Albright’s Feed Mill, Calico Creek, Dotterer Equipment, local blacksmiths, veterinarians such as Scott MacAllister at Centre Equine, and MacIntyre Chevrolet.

“It also allows me to support young people on my farm who participate in 4-H, like current Lock Haven University student Tessa Bitner, Central Mountain students Evie Rembold and Emma Croak, as well as countless others over the past several years.

“Without the money in the Race Horse Development Trust Fund, our farm would shut down and the economic impact it brings would disappear. I am just one breeder. Across the state, the economic ramifications would be huge.”

Pete Peterson, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, said it is important to understand that the Governor is seeking to divert non-tax dollars from the Race Horse Development Fund.

In 2017, the Legislature passed — and Gov. Wolf signed into law — legislation (Act 47) that specifically states the money in the RHDTF “are not funds of the Commonwealth” and that “the Commonwealth is not rightfully entitled” to the funds.

“Before gaming was expanded in the mid-2000s, track operators contributed to racing purses with a percentage of the money that was gambled on horse racing,” said Peterson.

“When the discussions were occurring about legalizing slot machines, everyone knew that adding a new form of competition for gambling dollars would result in less betting on horse races, so the track operators agreed to continue to supplement the racing purses, but with a portion of the revenue the tracks earned from slot machines.

“This also provided an added benefit, ensuring that the economic benefits of expanded gaming would not be limited to a 10 miles radius around casinos, but would be spread to rural communities throughout Pennsylvania that rely on our agricultural industry.

“Yes, college tuition is spiraling out of control and college debt is a major concern,” said Peterson.

“But you don’t fix one debt problem by creating another debt problem and putting 20,000 people out of work and bankrupting businesses and farms. If this is a priority for the governor, he needs to find another source of funding, because his current plan would be a disaster for Pennsylvania agriculture, farms, and small businesses.”

The Pennsylvania Equine Coalition is a statewide organization that represents more than 10,000 owners, trainers, drivers, and breeders in Pennsylvania’s horse racing and breeding industry. Its member organizations include the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association; Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; Standardbred Breeders Association of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association; Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, and the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

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