Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Don't put reins on horse industry

February 26, 2011

One billion dollars and growing.

That’s the size of Indiana’s equine industry, according to a recent study by Purdue University-Calumet. That’s up from $294 million just five years before.

Fueling the industry’s growth have been proceeds from Indiana “racinos”—combined horse tracks and casinos in Shelbyville and Anderson. The state sets aside a portion of that money for the industry each year.

That arrangement was part of the 2007 law approving slots gambling at Indiana racetracks. Those payments have meant plumper purses, more competitive races and stronger betting, which has attracted breeders here, making Indiana’s equine industry more competitive with surrounding states.

Now this unbridled growth is in jeopardy. The current draft of the state budget calls for redirecting most of the money that has gone to horse racing to the general fund instead. The industry would receive $27 million in the next fiscal year, down from $60 million this year.

“People were coming to Indiana to breed horses and staying there at Kentucky’s expense and Ohio’s expense,” Alex Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association in Lexington, Ky., told an IBJ reporter in a front-page story last week. “This is a move backwards.”

In this lingering recession, we don’t blame legislators for turning over every rock in search of revenue as they work to build a budget without raising taxes. But they should leave the horse-racing industry’s funding alone. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, has called the payments a “shameful subsidy.”

We would call it something else: an investment that has paid off. The equine industry now provides 7,000 Indiana jobs. That’s almost as many people as are employed by the entire city of Indianapolis. And businesses have moved here in good faith, drawn by the prospect of competitive races and incentives to breed horses locally. Those companies do not deserve a bait-and-switch.

Unlike other sectors, the Hoosier horse industry is off and running. We can’t afford to slow it to a walk.

Daniels keeps his cool

House of Representatives Democrats may have lost their heads during their recent walkout, but Gov. Mitch Daniels didn’t.

His initial response was calm. Rather than stoop to name-calling, he took the high road, expressing confidence that Democrats would return to the people’s business.

Daniels’ restraint may have disappointed the angrier members of his party. But to our ears he struck just the right tone, chiding some of his brethren for diluting the legislative agenda.

Daniels struck a similar conciliatory tone at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. He did not follow the pattern of speakers pandering to the Republican party’s fringe, but made a plea for extending its reach.

“We must be the vanguard of recovery, but we cannot do it alone,” Daniels said.

That’s common-sense wisdom from a man who has grown as a statesman during his time in the Governor’s Office.

What about Daniels’ later, more critical comments about the departed Democrats? What had begun as an extreme, but perhaps justified, measure quickly became purely juvenile, so someone had to try to talk sense into them.•

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