By T. D. Thornton
A Kentucky state senator whose professional background includes media and event management positions within the Thoroughbred industry has filed a bill that would redistribute how a portion of the state’s excise tax on horse racing wagers gets used to fund equine education programs at Kentucky’s colleges.
Damon Thayer, the Republican Majority Floor Leader, told TDN via phone Monday that the prime objective of SB81 is to revise a state statute so that two horse industry-related programs that didn’t previously exist when the law was originally written can benefit from the funding, which currently amounts to two-tenths of one percent (0.2%) of the state’s pari-mutuel handle.
Specifically, the two programs Thayer is aiming to include are the University of Kentucky’s Ag Equine Programs (which encompass all equine activities within UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment), and Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s North American Racing Academy, which was originally a jockey training school founded by Chris McCarron, but has evolved into a wider program that educates potential exercise riders, assistant trainers, breeding farm managers and other workers skilled in the care and training of the racehorse.
Thayer said that right now, the way the existing statute is written, only the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program receives funding from the excise tax on horse bets.
“I believe that to be consistent, if the pari-mutuel excise tax is going to help fund the U of L program, it should also fund these other two programs at public universities,” Thayer explained. “None of these programs compete with each other. They produce different kinds of graduates. The U of L program is more of a business and management program. The UK program is more of an agriculture and equine approach–a lot of those graduates will go on to veterinary school and farm management types of positions. And the BCTC program, those graduates often go on to careers on the racetrack.”
Thayer said another factor in changing the statute has to do with additional excise tax money that is now being generated by historical horse race (HHR) wagering, which creates a larger fiscal pie for the three educational entities to share.
“A wager on HHR is treated and taxed the same way as a wager on live racing, so there’s more money going into the fund,” Thayer said.
Thayer said he wants all stakeholders to understand that even though he has introduced his legislation during the 2019 session, he is not intending to actually try to get it passed until 2020. The current draft version of the bill contains 2019 language only as a placeholder, he explained, because he wants the topic to be discussed and possibly improved before pushing for its passage in 2020.
“I introduced the bill not to move it in this year’s session, because it’s a 30-day session and we don’t do the budget until 2020,” Thayer said. “But I wanted to get the bill out there so stakeholders could take a look at it, provide me with suggestions, and get some discussion going on this concept of the pari-mutuel excise tax supporting all equine programs at Kentucky’s public universities, not just one of them. I’d like to have it discussed in a committee meeting this summer in the equine issues subcommittee that we have under the agriculture committee, and perhaps the appropriations and revenue committee, which is effectively our budget committee.”
Thayer said the excise tax on Kentucky’s horse bets gets divided to fund a number of other entities besides education. Some of the money goes into he state’s general fund, a portion goes to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, and some of it funds the Equine Drug Research Council that makes recommendations that help the state racing commission establish medication policies.
When asked if any new taxes or fees would be part of his proposal, Thayer said, “Absolutely not. I’m a conservative Republican, so I’m not for new taxes and new fees. This is taking the existing money and splitting it up more equitably between educational programs that deserve the funding.”
Dating back over three decades, Thayer’s racing-related jobs have included stints with the Breeders’ Cup, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and as the director of communications at Turfway Park.