Pa. Gov. Wolf: Legislative fix needed for breeding snafu
by Frank Vespe
If the state of Pennsylvania’s inability to pay Thoroughbred breeder bonuses is going to get resolved, that fix will have to come via the state legislature.
That was the upshot of a strongly worded letter sent August 5 by Governor Tom Wolf (D-PA) to Roger Legg, president of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association.
And that means that the state’s breeders, who have not received bonuses for any races conducted after February 23, will continue to feel the pinch.
“The financial impact that the cessation of Pennsylvania Breeding Fund payments is having upon individual horse breeders and their employees is extremely concerning, and we realize it could be potentially devastating if continued,” Wolf wrote. “Hence, a statutory fix should be enacted as soon as possible.”
The problem for the breeders: “as soon as possible” means no earlier than September, when the legislature reconvenes.
The issue arose with the passage of Act 7, designed to revitalize the state’s moribund Racing Commission. While the state had for many years paid different bonuses to Pennsylvania-breds sired by in-state sires and those sired by out-of-state sires, an apparent drafting error in the bill appears to have the effect of essentially negating payments to out-of-state-sired Pennsylvania-breds.
About half of Pennsylvania-breds were sired by out-of-state sires in recent years.
And for the offending language’s presence in the bill, Wolf laid the blame at the doorstep of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, saying that the organization had failed even to try to fix it for the entire year between its early 2015 introduction and its 2016 enactment.
“Between January 28, 2015, and when Act 7 was signed into law on February 23, 2016, it was never brought to the attention of my staff or the staff of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture that the language was not the intended product of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association (PHBA),” Wolf wrote.
In fact, Wolf said, the issues in the language actually were brought to the Administration’s attention by “another party,” with the PHBA weighing in finally on April 12.
Of course, from the perspective of Pennsylvania’s breeders, out $770,000 for bonuses earned under the old system but not paid during February and March and millions more for the subsequent months, the “inside baseball” questions of who and how are largely beside the point; the more critical question is when the spigot will again be opened.
To that end, the PHBA sought to have the state Racing Commission interpret Act 7’s language to allow the funds to be released. The PHBA retained the law firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney to analyze the legislation. That firm opined that the PHBA’s contention that “the new statutory language should not change prior practice regarding distribution of money from the Fund can be supported.”
The Commission, however, tabled the motion at its July meeting and does not meet again until August 24. Wolf, for one, was not impressed by the PHBA’s argument.
“As I understand it,” Wolf wrote, “the State Horse Racing Commission was being asked to disregard the text changes made in Act 7 and to adopt a legal interpretation in support of that action which was advanced by a law firm retained by your organization… The Commission cannot ignore the parameters set forth in Act 7, regardless of how convenient it may be to do so.”