Day At The Track

Fears of impact of Wolf’s budget proposal

08:38 PM 07 Feb 2020 NZDT
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Pete Peterson
Pete Peterson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, talks about Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to fund a new scholarship program with funds diverted from the Race Horse Development Trust Fund.
Aimee Dilger | Times Leader Photo

PLAINS TWP. – While Gov. Tom Wolf was in Taylor on Thursday pitching his 2020 budget and the $204 million Nellie Bly Scholarship Program it would create, Pete Peterson stood in Pacers Clubhouse at Mohegan Sun Pocono and questioned the wisdom of how Wolf would fund the scholarship.

Wolf’s plan would divert money from the Race Horse Development Trust Fund, which receives funding from Pennsylvania slots revenue, to pay for the scholarship program.

Peterson said diverting those funds would be fatal for the horse and harness racing industry.

“It would effectively end the harness racing industry as we know it,” said Peterson, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition — an organization representing the six Thoroughbred and Standard-bred horsemen and breeder associations in the state.

“It basically takes away all the money that exists for purses and for breeders incentives,” he said. “That’s the lifeblood of the industry.”

Mohegan Sun Pocono, which has featured live harness racing for 55 years, will host 133 nights of live racing this year.

Wolf, though, believes the money could be better spent.

“Let’s bet on our kids instead of bankrolling race horse owners and ensure the viability of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education,” Wolf told those gathered at Riverside High School on Thursday.

However, Peterson cautioned that it is more than just the harness and horse racing industry that would be affected.

“The industry as a whole has a much broader impact than most people realize,” Peterson said. “They take a look at a track, and they say that’s who the industry employs.

“Well, there are thousands of breeders and the people that work for them. And then you have on top of that a range of people from trainers to jockeys to drivers …”

Others professions that benefit from the horse racing industry, according to Peterson include, blacksmiths, veterinarians, exercise riders, grooms, equine dentists, equine therapists, jockey agents, hot walkers, nutritionists, bloodstock agents and more.

Peterson said that harness and horse racing contribute about 20,000 jobs to the state and has an overall economic impact of $1.6 billion.

In addition, Peterson fears the impact taking the funds away from racing will have on the state’s farmers.

“It’s going to have a much broader impact on the agriculture economy in the state than I think most people realize,” he said.

Noting that the racing industry is typically the top-level buyer for hay, Peterson said the governor’s diverting of funds comes at a bad time for farmers.

“Last year, Pennsylvania saw a 20 percent increase in farm bankruptcies,” he said. “And a lot of them are struggling financially, and then to take away their largest customer.

“It’s going to really hurt them.”

By Joe Soprano

Reprinted with permission of The Times Leader

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