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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By USTA Release — Following is a statement from USTA President Russell Williams responding to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s proposal made during his budget address on Tuesday (Feb. 4) of establishing a new “Nellie Bly” Scholarship Fund by redirecting $200 million of existing tax dollars from the Race Horse Development Trust Fund.

Statement from USTA President Russell Williams:

Like good horseplayers, we must calmly assess all the data surrounding the new Pennsylvania budget proposal.

As in other states, when casino gaming wanted to enter Pennsylvania, a three-way accord was reached: casino entertainment, horse industry, and state and local government.

It’s a three-way win: a successful entertainment business, economic stimulus for the equine segment of agriculture with its resulting economic impact, and tremendous tax revenue for the state and localities.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly considered this economic powerhouse worth protecting, so it put the Race Horse Development Fund (purses and breeder awards from casino money) into a legislative trust fund.

The Pennsylvania Governor’s budget proposal would take the money from the RHDF and use it to fund the Nellie Bly Tuition Program. This program doesn’t exist yet, nor does anyone outside the Office of the Governor know how it’s supposed to work.

The time between now and June 30, when the final budget must be passed, will be used to discuss many things, Nellie Bly not least among them. The legislature has the final say, and even if it likes Nellie Bly, it may decide to give the idea further study instead of funding it in order to find out how it works.

Even though a lot of money is involved, we should not get overly alarmed by the actions of a governor who has done this sort of thing before. All of racing must continually face issues like this and defend ourselves vigorously. When the government has a major role in your business, the price of liquidity is eternal vigilance.

Excerpt from Governor Tom Wolf’s Budget Address:

I’m proposing a historic $200 million investment in scholarships for the young Pennsylvanians attending our state system universities.

That will mean 25,000 PASSHE students like Jacob can get a degree without crushing debt. And we’ll do that by re-purposing existing tax dollars that are right now flowing into the Horse Racing Development Fund. Let’s bet on our kids instead of bankrolling race horse owners and ensure the viability of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

This new scholarship program is inspired by a young woman, a Pennsylvanian of modest means, who had to drop out of what we now know as Indiana University of Pennsylvania after her father passed away and she could no longer afford it. She never got her degree, and she wound up having to move out of state to start her career.

Her name was Nellie Bly.

(Editor’s Note: The Pennsylvania Equine Coalition also released a statement opposing the Governor’s proposal. To read it, click here.)

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