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  • Alexander Thompson

Post and Courier: SC Statehouse effort to help horse industry through gambling, feed tax stalls out

COLUMBIA — State lawmakers say they want to help South Carolina’s beleaguered horse industry, but the two principal efforts to do something appear dead following the defeat April 18 of a measure that would have pumped in cash through a tax on horse feed.

The other bill, which would fund the industry by legalizing and taxing online horse race wagering, was passed narrowly in the House earlier this month but has not been taken up in the state Senate.

Even if the Senate passes the horse race gambling bill, as supporters insist it will, the governor has pledged to veto it and social conservatives have spoken out against it.

It’s possible the House could add money into this year’s budget to directly appropriate cash to the effort, but at this stage in the budget process with the Senate poised to pass its version this week, the time has likely run out for that.

So South Carolina’s struggling equestrians will likely wait at least another year for relief from the state.

On April 18, advocates turned out to a House subcommittee meeting to plead their case.

“We are a hollow shell of what we once were,” Ned Towell, the owner of a Camden horse farm, said of his region’s generations-old equine industry.

He recounted the steady emptying of stables, the closure of farms and the declining caliber of local competitions.

The reason behind the drop in business is simple, Towell said. “Competition, competition, competition.”

Other states have invested in facilities and lavished incentives on owners and breeders who stable their horses in their states while South Carolina has fallen behind.

The bill the horsemen were advocating would institute a $2-per-ton fee on horse feed; that’s about a nickel per bag. The money collected would go to an 11-member appointed board that would give the funds out as grants to support the state’s horse industry.

The state’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office estimates the new fee would generate $151,000 for such grants. The board would also be charged with promoting the industry.

“You talked about all the different boards that we have – the pork board, the beef board – there isn’t an equine board,” Tommy Doyle, the owner of Palmetto Carriage Works, which operates Charleston’s horse drawn tours, told the subcommittee.

“There’s nobody out there talking about things that are important to the horse community,” he added.

The House panel voted down the bill, with three Republicans voting against the panel’s lone Democratic member while its chairman, Rep. Bill Chumley, R-Woodruff, abstained.

The concerns that led to the defeat were largely over the potential for the fee to apply to stock feed for all animals, not just horses.

Rep. Bill Hixon, a Republican from North Augusta who owns a farm, waved a printed photo of a bag of feed with a horse, cow and goat on it, worrying that farmers could be “penalized because they’re feeding a cow something with a horse on it.”

Several representatives said the Legislature should appropriate money to support the equine industry rather than levying a fee; similar arguments were leveled against the horse race betting bill.

“It’d be simpler to write them a check than set up all this bureaucracy,” said Rep. Randy Ligon, R-Chester. “We’re burning up more money talking about it than the horses are going to get.”

Rep. Dennis Moss, a Gaffney Republican who owns several horses and was the bill’s lead sponsor, expressed mild frustration after the vote that many of his colleagues say they want to support the equine industry but vote against efforts to do so. He said he believed the fee would only be applied to feed specifically labeled for horses, but that he would confer with legislators in North Carolina on how their feed fee system works.

He wants to amend the budget to include money for the equine industry and see how his colleagues vote on it.


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