KEEP Wish List: Tax Breaks, Breed Development

The Kentucky Equine Education Project has fashioned a short list of legislative initiatives that includes tax breaks and a breed development program but not racetrack gaming--at least not yet.

The KEEP board of directors is expected to address the organization's legislative agenda at a Jan. 5 meeting. The KEEP legislative committee compiled the agenda, and the organization's operating committee recently approved it, KEEP chairman Brereton Jones said Jan. 4.

The priorities are removal of statutory requirement that out-of-state residents who purchase weanlings and yearlings must remove them from the state within a certain period of time to avoid a tax; elimination of a tax on feed, fencing, and farm equipment; and a shift of money generated by a tax on stud fees from the state's general fund to a proposed breed development program.

Republican Sen. Damon Thayer has said elimination of the tax on feed, fencing, and farm equipment would put about $9 million back into the horse industry, while the stud-fee tax would provide about $14 million for breed development. Currently, the only incentive is the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, which awards about $9 million a year in purse supplements for the owners of Kentucky-bred racehorses.

Jones and others have said Kentucky needs a breed development program to keep pace with other states that have strong financial incentives that lure horses from the Bluegrass state.

Jones, who owns and operates Airdrie Stud near Midway, Ky., said the KEEP board hasn't voted on the gaming issue. He did say, however, the plan all along was for KEEP to have a serious legislative presence not this year but in 2006, which is the soonest the horse industry could pursue a constitutional amendment on casino-style gambling.

It remains unclear how the horse industry will figure in this year's short General Assembly session, which began Jan. 4. Though KEEP thus far has advocated pursuit of racetrack gaming only through the constitutional amendment route, a bill has been pre-filed that would allow for gaming through a vote of legislators. Under the plan, if legislators pass the bill this year, the constitutional amendment would be on the ballot next year.

The horse industry hasn't thrown its support behind the bill, sponsored by Sen. David Boswell of Owensboro, a western Kentucky city that has been tabbed as the location for one of four non-racetrack casinos. The other five casinos would be located at tracks.

Racetrack officials haven't publicly come out in favor of the Boswell bill. On Jan. 4, during a press conference to announce a purse increase for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton said Churchill hasn't had "specific discussion" with Boswell, and that the bill has "challenges in it as it relates to the proliferation of gaming." He said any proposal to have casinos at non-racetrack locations would require further discussion.

Still, when asked if Churchill planned to pursue alternative gaming in 2005 rather than waiting for 2006, Sexton noted the state's need for revenue and said Churchill is ready to be a player in helping generate the money.

"We'll focus our efforts on where it's most advantageous," Sexton said. "We'd like to think it would be realistic for this year."

The racing industry has failed to win approval for alternative gaming during the past three legislative sessions; in fact, the struggle dates back to 1994. Since then, legislators have told industry representatives they must be united to have any chance of success.

KEEP, launched last May, is a multi-breed organization that has become quite influential in a short period of time and shown the ability to raise funds to support its efforts. The organization, which counts racetracks among its members, has a mission to educate the public and legislators on the importance of the horse industry to Kentucky's economy.