Posted: Feb. 22, 2022
The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission Feb. 22 adopted a resolution opposing another attempt by Gov. Tom Wolf to shift funds from the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Trust Fund to pay for a proposed college scholarship program. The governor included the plan in his 2022-23 state budget.
A similar proposal by Wolf in 2020 and 2021 was rejected by the state legislature. He sought to take about $200 million—close to the entire PRHDTF—to create the Nellie Bly Scholarship Fund. This year, his budget plan calls for an $88 million diversion of funds in 2022 and the same amount in 2023.
Money for the PRHDTF is derived from a percentage of slot machine revenue. Preservation of horse racing, both standardbred and thoroughbred, as well as its important role in the state’s agricultural economy was the impetus for the casino gambling bill that passed the legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2004.
PHRC member Tom Ellis proposed the resolution during the commission’s Feb. 22 meeting. He noted the fund several years ago was legislatively changed to a trust in order to protect the money from being used for other purposes.
“The governor and this administration are not listening,” Ellis said. “This would kill off good-paying jobs, farms, open space, and racing and breeding. Pennsylvania is an agricultural state. Let’s protect our agricultural history. Let’s stop the yearly pitting of education against horse racing once and for all.”
Ellis said that under the governor’s proposal the remaining $112 million for the scholarship fund–for fiscal 2022-23 at least–would come from federal COVID-19 relief funding. He said that could open the door for a complete gutting of the PRHDTF in the next fiscal year.
Brian Sanfratello, Executive Secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, said the mere mention of a plan to take money from the PRHDTF damages the breeding industry in the state because it creates uncertainty.
“This governor has probably done more to harm the breeding and racing industry than any governor in recent history,” he said.
The resolution will be sent to the chairs of the Appropriations Committee in the Senate and House of Representatives. According to published reports, many lawmakers in both houses of the legislature who opposed the plan in previous years oppose it again.