PA Equine Coalition questions ‘misinformation’ from think-tank

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: July 7, 2017

As Pennsylvania lawmakers look for a few billion dollars to cover a $32 billion state budget they approved at the end of June, the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition is battling claims from a non-profit organization that expenditures from the Race Horse Development Fund amount to corporate welfare.

The RHDF, which is support through a percentage of slot machine revenue at the state’s casinos, totaled about $242 million last year. The money goes toward purses, breed development programs and horsemen’s benefits, and beginning in 2016, equine drug testing and racing industry marketing were added to the list.

Racing industry officials have indicated some lawmakers are looking at the RHDF to help plug the budget revenue hole. The General Assembly is expected to resume its session July 7 and has only a few days to approve a spending plan.

The Commonwealth Foundation, which says it “transforms free-market ideas into public policies,” claims RHDF expenditures are tax dollars, and that most of the fund money goes out of state. A state study earlier this year indicated most of the money actually remains in Pennsylvania.

The coalition, which has four horsemen’s groups and two breeders’ associations as its members, makes the case that the RHDF isn’t a taxpayer subsidy—it was part of an agreement casino operators made to offset the impact expanded gambling would have on pari-mutuel wagering in Pennsylvania. It accuses the Commonwealth Foundation of spreading “misinformation.”

The state’s racetracks aren’t members of the PEC. State lawmakers in the past have reallocated money from the RHDF to pay for other programs but haven’t taken a share of revenue from racetrack casino profits.

The July 6 letter to legislators from the PEC is available here.

(Parx Racing photo by Tom LaMarra)