05/11/2012 10:45AM

Pennsylvania Senate-passed budget doesn't include large-scale cuts to racing subsidies

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The Pennsylvania Senate on Thursday passed a $27.7 billion budget that does not contain large-scale cuts to the amount of subsidies directed to the state’s horse racing industry as proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

Corbett, a Republican, had proposed directing $72 million a year over the next three years from racing’s subsidies from casino gambling to other state agricultural programs. The budget passed by the Republican-controlled Senate by a vote of 39-8 includes only a $3 million cut to the subsidies.

Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen and breeders in Pennsylvania have waged a vigorous lobbying campaign to protect the subsidies, which total approximately $275 million a year. The proposal by Corbett coincided with efforts in other jurisdictions to rollback the amount of money racing industries receive from casino revenues, most significantly in Ontario, Canada, where the government this spring voted to drastically cut the amount of support racetracks receive from other forms of gambling.

Todd Mostoller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said Friday morning that horsemen were relieved that the program was spared and that he was confident that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would maintain the size of the racing-subsidy program when it votes on its own budget.

However, Mostoller said that horsemen will continue to lobby against the $3 million cut as negotiations on the budget continue.

“It’s not the monetary amount, it’s the message that it sends,” Mostoller said. “We have a lot of people who have come here and who continue to come here to invest in racing, and we think that the cut discourages continued investment, no matter how small it is.”

The budget passed by the Senate erased many of the cuts that Corbett had proposed for state government as part of a large austerity program designed to grant tax breaks to businesses while simultaneously raising money to fund cash-strapped state pension programs. Corbett has proposed a $27.1 billion budget.

However, since Corbett made his budget proposal, revenues to the state government have been running higher than projected, a reversal that supporters of the Senate budget cited when passing their budget bill.

Mostoller said the unanticipated increase in government revenues over the past several months “helped a lot” in protecting the racing industry’s casino payments.