Pennsylvania Democrats led by Governor Tom Wolf (D) want to end most of the casino gaming subsidies provided to state horsemen in favor of redirecting that tax money to higher education. But state Republicans, which control the General Assembly, say they will continue to block that from happening.
Under current law, Pennsylvania’s horse racing industry receives 11 percent of the taxes generated by slot machines. The casino tax money is allocated to the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund, which benefits horse racing purses and the industry as a whole.
Wolf for a third consecutive year has proposed reducing the horsemen contribution from slot machines. The governor, in his second and final term, has continually proposed forming a new scholarship program and redirecting the slot money to support higher education grants for in-need students.
To amend how slot tax money is used, state lawmakers would need to pass legislation to change the 2006 gaming act. That apparently won’t happen, according to GOP leaders.
Dead on arrival,” said House Appropriations Committee Chair Stan Saylor (R-York). “The General Assembly’s been very clear on that.”
Wolf’s college education initiative is titled the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program. Nellie Bly attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania — then named Indiana Normal School — in the late 1800s. She left school due to an inability to pay. But she went on to be a pioneering journalist whose coverage on mental health led to the state overhauling how it assists psychiatric needs.
Wolf has proposed moving the approximately $200 million in casino slot tax revenue that would go to the Race Horse Development Fund in 2022 to the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program. The governor argues the state shouldn’t be subsidizing an industry that cannot support itself.
“A good education can set a person up for a lifetime of success. But pursuing that education can often be a dream out of reach, as costs skyrocket and student debt looms,” Wolf said earlier this month. “Let’s help Pennsylvania students succeed and put money back into the economy, instead of shouldering them with debt equal to a down payment on a new home.”
The program would provide scholarships for full-time undergraduate students attending a community college, or one of the 14 institutions in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Applicants seeking degrees in industries with high-employment demands, including health care, education, and public service, would be given priority, Wolf says.
Scholarship recipients would be required to stay and work in Pennsylvania for the same number of years in which they received scholarship money. Those who do not stay in the commonwealth for that duration would need to repay the grant money.
State Republicans say stripping money from the horsemen would negatively impact the commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) naturally agrees.
The horsemen claim horse racing contributes $1.6 billion in economic activity across the commonwealth annually. The industry says it employs 23,000 people.
Republicans are reportedly in the minority when it comes to their position to continue propping up horsemen with slot dollars. A poll conducted last year by Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research concluded that 83% of likely voters in Pennsylvania would support terminating the horsemen slot allocation.
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