Horse farmers want to pull the reins on Gov. Wolf's plans to divert slots revenue to scholarship fund

Jim Melwert
February 16, 2020 - 4:00 am
Gov. Tom Wolf speaking.

The Office of Governor Tom Wolf via Flickr


HARRISBURG (KYW Newsradio) — As Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf continues his tour of state schools to push a new scholarship, his plan to raid a trust that’s funded by slots revenue has some people saying "hold your horses."

Wolf estimates the scholarship fund would help about 25,000 students each year at the state-run universities, like West Chester and Kutztown. He wants to divert more than $200 million from the Race Horse Development Trust Fund toward the scholarships.

But industry advocates argue that fund is not state tax revenue but rather a set percentage of slot machine income that goes to the horse racing industry each year as part of an agreement in the beginning of gambling expansion back in the mid-2000s.

Heather Hunter and her husband breed thoroughbreds in West Grove, Chester County. She says gutting that fund would affect not only workers at horse tracks or on horse farms, but also farms that grow hay or alfalfa, dealerships that sell equipment, and even mushroom farms in Chester County.

Related: Racehorse money targeted for Pennsylvania scholarship proposal

"They buy horse manure and they are really concerned too, if there are no horse farms to provide this, they’re going to be in trouble," Hunter said.

She said that in turn she could have an impact on open space and farmland preservation in Chester County and across Pennsylvania.

And while she loves her job and isn’t complaining, Hunter wanted to dispel the myth that horse farmers are rich, champagne-sipping, elites. "It’s in our blood, but it's not true," she said. "We work 365 days a year."

This isn't the first time a governor has tried to dip into the race horse development fund. Former Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett previously tried to use the money to balance the budget.