Pennsylvania’s horse industry fared better than expected in the 2012-2013 state budget passed just at the July 1 deadline.
Horse racing, which was targeted for a $72 million decrease in funding, pared the loss to just $5 million. Funding was restored to last year’s levels for agricultural programs such as the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine and the Animal Health Commission. Farmland preservation was not defunded as proposed in the Corbett budget but instead will continue to receive funding through the cigarette tax. Penn State funding for Cooperative Extension and research remains the same.
The Pennsylvania Equine Coalition had projected that the $72 million decrease in funding for the Racehorse Development Fund would result in the loss of as many as 15,000 Pennsylvania jobs by prompting horse owners and breeders to either relocate their businesses or race their horses in other states that offered more competitive purse structures and incentives.
The Pennsylvania Equine Coalition launched an aggressive and successful campaign to hold the legislature to the promises made to the industry in 2001 with the passage of Act 71. Breeders who had invested millions of dollars in infrastructure in the state were encountering owners reluctant to breed mares in Pennsylvania due to the uncertainty, accompanied by the potential need for layoffs, less demand for Pennsylvania stallions, and a diminished outlook for vets, feed dealers, and the rest of the state equine economy.
Of the $5 million being diverted from racing, $2 million will assist Pennsylvania county fairs, and $3 million will fund the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex.
According to economic data from the Department of Agriculture released in 2010, between 2001 and 2008, the value of the racing industry in Pennsylvania more than quadrupled. In addition, the number of non-racing equine industry jobs tripled, while the value of the non-racing equine industry in Pennsylvania increased from $780 million in 2001 to $3 billion in 2008.
One Corbett proposal, to change farmland preservation funding, was shot down in the General Assembly. The governor had proposed moving the state farmland preservation program’s cigarette tax revenue to the general fund, replacing the money with the balance of Growing Greener funds for the next two years.
Farmland preservation advocates, worried about the long-term funding source for the program, vigorously objected to the idea, and the Legislature abandoned the proposal, keeping the cigarette tax as a dedicated source for farm preservation funding.
State funding for farmland preservation creates an incentive for counties and townships to allocate local funds for farmland preservation. Pennsylvania has preserved more than 450.000 acres of land on more than 4,000 family farms, making it the most successful farmland preservation program in the nation.
The Keystone Fund, which supports trails, parks and recreation, remains intact. The Corbett budget had proposed permanently diverting the fund from recreation to the general fund, eliminating $30 million devoted to parks and recreation. The Keystone Fund receives 15 percent of the state’s realty transfer tax.
“We have been working tirelessly on this issue since February,” said Kim Woodward, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Parks and Recreation. “We have been forewarned that this process will most assuredly need to take place again next year. At our recent board retreat, the board voted to set up an Advocacy Fund that will give us the ability to hire a lobbyist who can help us assess the issue earlier.”