Senate fattens racing purses If $6 million fund becomes law, industry would get first direct state funding

1997 Assembly Session

April 06, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Senate moved to shore up the state's horse breeding and racing industry yesterday as it approved a $6 million fund to fatten the purses paid to the owners of winning horses.

The aid bill, described by supporters as a one-year "Band-Aid" for the beleaguered industry, passed the Senate on a 37-10 vote after a spirited debate during which opponents said the money could be better spent on educating children in poverty.

If approved by the House of Delegates and signed by the governor, the financial assistance would mark the first time the state has put its money directly into racing, said William S. Ratchford II, director of the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services. Previous efforts to shore up the industry have come in the form of tax relief.

The bill still faces steep hurdles. The House is not expected to take up the matter until tomorrow, when the measure would have to be approved by a committee and then the full House before the 90-day session ends that night.

The Senate bill calls for a $5 million grant, to be paid for with money from the Maryland Lottery -- which senators are hoping will generate $5 million more than is currently projected. The other $1 million in relief would come from scaling back the current tax on the racing industry.

The bill allocates 70 percent of the funds to thoroughbred racing and 30 percent to the harness tracks. The $6 million package was scaled back from an earlier plan that would have provided $10 million for racing purses.

In addition to providing one year of funding, the bill would create a task force to examine the long-term financial problems of the industry and propose a solution in time for next year's General Assembly session.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, the Finance Committee chairman and an architect of the plan, told senators the money would not go to the owners of the racetracks.

"This goes to the trainers, the breeders, the horse farms," said Bromwell, contending that the racing industry accounts for 17,000 to 25,000 jobs in Maryland.

Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat, warned that purses in Delaware, which now lures bettors to its tracks with slot machines, have come to surpass those in Maryland within the past year.

Other supporters cited Maryland's heritage as a horse-racing state and warned that the industry could be lost if legislators don't act.

"We are one of the great racing states in this nation, and I suggest to you that by the year 2000, we won't even be in the game if we don't do something now," said Sen. Clarence W. Blount, a Baltimore Democrat. He urged colleagues to pass the aid package this year and come back next year to approve slot machines at Maryland tracks -- a proposal Gov. Parris N. Glendening has promised to veto.

Opponents, including suburban Washington legislators who have been lobbying the governor for more education aid, said the bill is an example of misplaced priorities.

"I'm not worried about horses falling through the safety net. I'm worried about kids falling through the safety net," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Pub Date: 4/06/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.