Governor Wolf outlines his college scholarship plan in which the horse racing industry says ‘no’

Gov. Tom Wolf’s efforts to make a college education an attainable goal for all Pennsylvanians by creating a $200 million scholarship program is met with strong opposition from the horse racing industry, which would see its main source of funding for scholarships and breeder incentives largely exhausted.

Wolf held a press conference on Wednesday to call for action on his proposed Nellie Bly Scholarship Program which would provide free aid to students attending a community college or university in the higher education system of the United States. State of Pennsylvania.

The program would be for students pursuing careers in labor-intensive fields post-pandemic, such as health, education and public service. The scholarships would come with a requirement that recipients live and work in Pennsylvania for the same number of years that they received a scholarship.

“A good education can set a person up for lifelong success. But pursuing that education can often be a dream out of reach as costs soar and student debt looms,” Wolf said at the press conference held at the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg. “Let’s help students in Pennsylvania succeed and put money back into the economy, instead of burdening them with debt equal to a down payment on a new home.”

Funding for this scholarship program — which Wolf first proposed in 2020, but went nowhere — would come from a combination of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and Race Horse Development Trust Fund.

It’s the proposed diversion of $88.2 million for each of the next two years — and what the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition fears could be as high as $200 million in subsequent years — from the Race Horse Development Trust Fund that has the coalition to scandal.

“The Governor’s proposed transfer will cripple Pennsylvania’s horse breeding industry, devastate thousands of family jobs, jeopardize hundreds of thousands of acres of open space, and endanger hundreds of small businesses – many of which are in the minority. property,” said Brian Sanfratello, executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, which represents Thoroughbred breeders in the state.

“He has hurt our industry more than any other governor in recent history. Fortunately, lawmakers understand that horse breeding and racing is an integral part of the state’s larger agricultural industry, which is why his raid project received very little support from the legislature in the past. past two years, including members of his own party.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor of R-York County said so during a hearing with State System Chancellor Dan Greenstein the day after Wolf unveiled his 2022-23 budget proposal earlier this month. The T Nellie Bly Scholarship Scheme was included in it.

“I would like to point out that the governor again this year installed the Nellie Bly, who died on arrival,” Saylor said. “He was. The General Assembly was very clear on that.

Make it more palatable

Wolf spokeswoman Beth Rementer said the funding for the Race Horse Development Fund came from slot machine tax revenue. This money was paid into the trust fund when the industry asked for help in 2004 and 2015.

“These dollars belong to the state to be used for programs that benefit Pennsylvanians as a whole, not the industry,” Rementer said. “Taxpayers have invested over $3 billion in the industry since 2004. However, with this incredible investment, it’s time for the industry to become self-sufficient by reducing its reliance on a state dollar subsidy. The industry should continue to build on the investment taxpayers have made in it. Now is the time for the industry to stop trading for taxpayers’ money and focus on generating its own to be self-sufficient.

Plus, she says, “Nellie Bly doesn’t leave horse racing in Pennsylvania cold. That leaves them with over $108 million a year in the fund which it uses to support owner, trainer and jockey earnings. Governor Wolf hopes that the funding source sharing will be more acceptable to the General Assembly as the proposal moves forward.

Rementer said that just as the Commonwealth has responded to the needs of horse racing when it needed help, investment in its workforce is now needed specifically in high demand occupations which have been identified at the following the pandemic.

“And that’s exactly what Nellie Bly does,” she said.

Solving one problem creates another

About $240 million a year in tax revenue from slot machine revenue is deposited into the racehorse trust fund. A June 2021 Franklin & Marshall poll found that 83% of voters polled favored reallocating money from this trust fund.

“Pennsylvania taxpayers provide, on average, three times more support to horse owners and breeders than they provide to PASSHE school students, an imbalance that needs to change,” said Sharon Ward, policy advisor for Education Voters of pennsylvania. “Wolf’s plan keeps the tracks open but reflects the ever-decreasing importance of horse racing in the gaming landscape.”

Greenstein, the state system chancellor, said the cost of attending one of 14 state universities, despite the lowest possible price for a four-year degree, is still out of reach for too many. of students.

“This scholarship can be a way for the Commonwealth to reduce student expenses, increase enrollment and completion, and ensure Pennsylvania’s workforce remains internationally competitive,” said John “Ski” Sygielski, President and CEO of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College. .

The Equine Coalition recognizes that college debt and rising tuition fees are major issues in Pennsylvania. However, this statewide organization representing more than 10,000 owners, trainers, drivers and breeders in Pennsylvania’s horse racing and breeding industry says that solving a problem by putting an entire sector of the farm industry going bankrupt is not the solution.

The cornerstone of the horse racing industry

According to the Equine Coalition, the transfer of funds would decimate horse racing in Pennsylvania.

This industry supports hundreds of small businesses, 23,000 family jobs, has an economic impact of $1.6 billion, generates $69 million in annual tax revenue and protects hundreds of thousands of acres of open space, says -he.

Proposed cuts to breeder incentives and scholarships – if approved – would cause many equine breeders and owners to move their operations and horses to other states, causing an exodus of economic investment and jobs, according to the coalition.

“We occupy 3,000 acres in Adams and York counties and have been here for 96 years,” said Russell Williams, president of Hanover Shoe Farms, Inc., the world’s largest Standardbred horse farm. . “Forty families live on this land because one or more family members are employees of our farm, out of about 80 employees in total. At its peak, over 1,000 horses also live on the farm, including over 100 retired horses with nowhere to go.

“We buy 1,500 tons of hay and 1,500 tons of straw from our neighbors every year, not to mention animal feed, farm machinery, fence boards, supplies and equipment,” Williams added. “The Governor told me he knew our farm from having shuttled between his businesses in York and Littlestown for the past few years. I don’t understand how this governor could bring himself to destroy all of this, hurt so many people and animals, and turn Pennsylvania from a mecca of horse ranching and horse racing to a non-entity.

Rodney Eckenrode, owner of Equistar Farm, a training and breeding farm in Annville, Lebanon County, where Smarty Jones, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2004, stands at stud, said the Purse money and breeder incentives are the lifeblood of the horse racing industry.

On top of all that, the Equine Coalition points out that a law Wolf himself signed in 2017 to spur long-term investment in the state’s racing and breeding industry specifically states that the Breed Horse Development Trust Fund is “not a Commonwealth fund” and that “the Commonwealth will not be lawfully entitled to it”.

Jan Murphy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.

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