by Stephanie Shertzer Lawson
Do you fund a police officer or a horse show?
That's the question state legislators are addressing in this year of financial chaos.
It looks as if Pennsylvania will end the fiscal year on June 30 $3.2 billion in the hole. The state constitution mandates a balanced budget. Approximately 85 percent of state revenue is to be spent on education, corrections and welfare, much of which is for requirements under state or federal law. That leaves a very small chunk for everything else, including agriculture, under which equine projects fall.
It's very possible the Pennsylvania State 4-H Horse Show, which celebrates its 50th run this October, may receive no state funding this year. And funding for the Keystone International Livestock Exposition, which includes more than 1,000 equine exhibitors, may have its funding cut or eliminated as well.
The State 4-H Show draws about 900 horses whose young riders have qualified them for the state finals. KILE draws more than 1,000 horses who compete in breed shows for four draft horse breeds and three light horse breeds, and features Pennsylvania High School Rodeo competition. Both are held at the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, and both have long been partially funded through the state budget. The current 08-09 budget contained $52,000 for the 4-H show, down $3,000 from the previous year. KILE received $213,000, down $12,000 from the previous year. The money in those budgets went to produce the 2009 shows last fall.
"For years they have been line items in the Department of Agriculture budget," said Kristin Crawford, Director of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee and Legislative Director for Senator Mike Brubaker. "Agriculture is important to Pennsylvania, and the legislature has always felt that shows like the 4-H show and KILE that are not money makers warrant state support."
Two budget bills have so far been proposed. SB 850, the Republican version of the budget, which contained no tax increases, was passed by the Senate then voted down by the House Appropriations Committee. In that budget, the lines for the 4-H Show and KILE remain, but have no funding. SB 850 was based on a $2.9 billion deficit; that figure now stands at $3.2 billion and is projected to grow as revenue shortfalls increase. Less revenue means the cuts may become even deeper.
In the House budget proposed by Governor Rendell, funding for these programs was lumped into the Farm Show allocation. "Agriculture in general took a big hit in the Governor's proposal when you consider that the Governor proposed several tax increases, but none of the additional revenue was earmarked for agriculture. In SB 850 agriculture funding was cut but our farmers and rural Pennsylvanians are not being asked to dig deeper into their pockets to fund programs that may not benefit them," Crawford said. The Governor has admitted that another round of cuts is inevitable, so it's unlikely the funding will be restored this year. While the lines were not eliminated, just zeroed out, funding in future years is anybody's guess.
A tax increase that could restore some funding for these programs appears unlikely. The GOP controlled Senate has crushed every tax increase Rendell proposed over the last two years, and at press time the Senate appeared unwilling to compromise on that issue.
"It's very painful," Crawford said. "If it's not directly related to public safety and welfare, it's going to be cut. Do you fund a police officer or a horse show?"
09 4-H Show Will Go On
Patty Kelly grew up in 4-H and has been a 4-H leader for 35 years. She serves as co-manager of the Pennsylvania State 4-H Horse Show and is chair of the Pennsylvania 4-H Horse Development Committee. She says the show has a small reserve for emergencies that will enable the 2009 show, which will be held October 23-25, to go on. After that, all bets are off.
"I still remember the first time I qualified for the state show," Kelly, of Latrobe, PA, said. "I was in fifth grade and I remember seeing that ring for the first time and almost shivering at the thought that I was going to get to ride in it."
The state show is the goal of the thousands of kids who carry over 6,300 projects in Pennsylvania's equine 4-H program. To qualify they first show at county round-ups, where the top participants in a class go on to a district show. District shows encompass kids from numerous counties. The top one to four, depending on the event, go on to the state show, held at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. In addition about 250 horses qualify through regional production shows to advance to the state show. About 900 horses, sometimes more, qualify in all. "In 4-H we do so much more than showing, but having that goal is a tremendous part of our program," Kelly said. "If there's no state show, there's no reason to have the district shows.
"This has been a successful program for 50 years. For the amount of participation, $55,000 is nothing," Kelly said. "We would like three times that amount. We were hoping to grow our program, offering more opportunity, not less. This isn't a moneymaker and we need to keep entry fees low. This will really hurt us."
The state funding is the only appropriated funding the show receives. The remainder of the show's budget comes from entry, stall and other show fees, program advertising, vendors and sponsorships. A silent auction is held to raise funds. As with all shows, the economic downturn has affected many of those revenue sources, and many costs have risen.
"The Farm Show helps us out, which we appreciate," Kelly said. "The Pennsylvania National Horse Show (which usually immediately precedes or follows the show) has been kind enough to allow us to use their practice ring and judges' stand. We get sponsors for trophies and ask for gifts for prizes, which are all donated. Ninety percent of the people who work the show are volunteers who take off work to be there. I don't know where we could cut anything.
"We will work as hard as we can to keep this show and to restore the budget line item," Kelly said. "I am an educator by profession. In these times of turmoil and divorce, 4-H has the ability to really touch and develop kids. 4-H can hold onto kids better than the educational system because of the common denominator we all love -- the horse."
KILE Fares Better -- Maybe
KILE's funding was largely preserved, though rolled into the Farm Show budget, in the Governor's budget, said KILE General Manager Jim Sharp. The Senate version zeroed out the entire amount. "We like to think we will get something but that's not a given," he said.
The state funding represents about half KILE's budget. The show runs September 28 to October 4, also at the Farm Show Complex.
"The executive committee is working on contingency plans," Sharp said. "They are looking at ways to reduce expenses while minimizing the impact on exhibitors. That's the goal. But there's not a lot of wiggle room because there's not a lot of fluff.
"We are not happy to be in this position. This is the 53rd year for KILE. That's a long tradition and we hope it will carry some weight. In addition to the educational value and the role the show plays in developing young leaders, a minimal investment for the state results in large returns. It's not a handout. Conservatively, KILE, the 4-H show and the other two livestock shows (funded by the state) represent $14 million in economic impact. The six percent sales tax on that amount more than covers the state's investment. That's our message. Hopefully we'll have some ears in the legislature to support us," Sharp said.
"Without funding, like the 4-H show, long term the show will be in jeopardy. This could be the end of KILE. But we are committed to doing what we can to keep it going, then we'll see where the funding falls."
Crawford said it's important that constituents weigh in with their legislators on that question. "We're hearing over and over -- no tax increase. If readers support a tax increase that will restore some of this funding, they need to let legislators know, along with where the funding should be restored. Or if they feel no tax increase is warranted, they should communicate that. It's very important."
Sources say the drama could continue for months. Since the governor's been in office the July 1 budget deadline has never been met. With the thorniness of this challenge, an outcome could take months.
Readers who would like to voice their opinions on these funding issues should contact their state legislators. To find them, visit the Pennsylvania General Assembly web site at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/