Tax relief for the horse industry, not racetrack gaming, will be the focus of the Kentucky Equine Education Project during the 2007 General Assembly session, according to the chairman of the organization.
KEEP this year authored legislation for casino gambling at racetracks, and after compromise, non-racetrack locations were added. Though the bill cleared a House committee late in the session, it lacked broad support and never came before the full House.
In 2007, the legislative session in Kentucky is "short," and there also is a gubernatorial election. Observers of the political scene believe it's not a good time to pursue expanded gambling in the state.
"The decision of the KEEP board of directors was that we needed to focus on what's now realistic, so the feeling was that trying to get tax equity legislation passed in an 'off' session should be the primary objective," KEEP chairman Brereton Jones said. "If other people are pushing the gaming issue, our position hasn't changed. But we need to put a major push on tax equity. Getting the sales tax off a sack of feed helps every breed of horse."
Republican Sen. Damon Thayer of Kentucky supports tax equity for the horse industry and is expected to work on the legislation. The issue has come up before; food and fencing for cattle and llamas, for instance, isn't taxed the way it is for the horse industry.
KEEP remains in favor of racetrack gaming, Jones said, as a means to help not only the horse industry but residents of Kentucky through a new revenue stream. He said 2008, when a regular-length General Assembly session is held, would be "time to roll up our sleeves."
Horse racing and breeding interests in particular have said competition from other states with racetrack gaming has been harmful. The competition could get a lot closer should Ohioans on Nov. 7 pass the "Learn and Earn" ballot initiative that calls for video lottery terminals at the Buckeye State's seven racetracks.
Jones noted Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher doesn't support racetrack gaming but doesn't oppose tax parity. Fletcher is up for re-election in 2007 and continues to seek support around the state for his bid.
Jones, who owns Airdrie Stud in Central Kentucky with his wife, Libby, served as Democratic governor of Kentucky from 1991-95. There was talk in 2002 he may seek the Democratic nomination but he declined; that talk of him running for governor is back again this year.
"There have been a lot of people trying to promote that, but I've not been one of those," Jones said. "We'll see how it shakes out. I've been encouraging Ben Chandler to run, and if he does, I think he can win and be a good governor."
Chandler, a Democrat, currently represents the Sixth District of Kentucky in the United States House of Representatives. He won the term in November 2004. Previously, Chandler served two terms as attorney general of Kentucky, and before that was state auditor.