KEEP Promises its Members 'We'll Keep on Going'

Shaking off defeat of the casino bill in the recent legislative session, the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP) showed a fresh outlook for the remainder of 2006 in a first public meeting May 9 at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The organization's staff, three Kentucky legislatures, and dozens of KEEP members representing various horse breeds were present to discuss the strengths and shortcomings of the past year, as well as hopes for the future.

KEEP, which has raised more than $5.5 million to fund educational efforts, also established a $140,000 grassroots fund, up from last year's $125,000, to assist local equine groups.

Although questions and concerns were brought up as to how the organization would pick up the pieces and continue toward their goal of casino gaming at Kentucky racetracks, the other major focus of the night was House Bill 263. Unsuccessful this year, the bill sought the removal of sales tax that only horse owners pay for purchase of feed, tack, and show equipment.

"I should apologize for not getting this legislation passed--it creates an $8 million hole in our budget," said Rep. Royce Adams, referring to the casino bill. "Don't get discouraged--you don't always get it the first time, but it can be done--it will just take hard work and patience," he added.

Said KEEP executive director Jim Navolio: "We've won the battle on public opinion, but not the political battle."

Next year's plans include introducing the bill earlier (in January) and getting more politically involved in the elections, he added.

"We need to find out who is involved in the horse industry and who is not," said KEEP chairman Brereton Jones. "We'll ask where they stand on certain issues. It's all about education. This isn't an organization that's for horses and nothing else."

Rep. Ed Worley explained in its current state, Kentucky was not operating on a "sound revenue basis."

"To maintain state government at the level we're spending, the answer is expanded gaming," he continued. "Our forefathers feel the legislature should be made up of all kinds of people in Kentucky. The difficulty in that is getting legislature through with that diverse of a group. It isn't always political, but a level of understanding."

Worley said educating people and reaching out to those in all walks of life is contagious. "It effects politics in all ways. Keep spending your money to educate people and this will all work out in time."

KEEP Fayette County team leader Mike Owens spoke about the Kentucky Breeder's Incentive Fund. Owens and his wife, Jeanne, received a $25,000 check for breeding Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) winner Sinister Minister.

"I am going to prove that all horses work for Kentucky," Owens said. "KEEP has made big changes here in the state--education has taken place. It surprised me how a lot of legislators don't know about the horse industry and sales tax equity issues."

Owens was referring to the current law that one must pay sales tax on horses kept in-state and the fact cattle and other livestock receive more tax breaks than the latter.

After Owens spoke, Jones said he was optimistic about the closing of Stewart Bainum's Dinwiddie Farm in Virginia since the family's mares were sent to Kentucky (Claiborne Farm) to participate in the state's breeders' fund.

An outspoken voice among the audience was KEEP member Emily Dennis, who operates Big Red Stables with her mother near Harrodsburg, Ky. Dennis said she was disappointed in KEEP's emphasis on gaming, as it took away from the sales tax exemption issue.

"This is something that effects almost all people with horses," she said. "It doesn't make any sense to buy a horse in Kentucky and have to pay sales tax to keep it here."

Jones reemphasized that the sales tax and expanded gaming issues were the top two on KEEP's to-do list.

"Because this is a young organization, however, we have to prioritize," he said. His biggest concern, he explained, was raising more money for state issues such as education.

Said Navolio of the meeting's intended purpose: "We've got to keep the motivation going. We want to keep with our grassroots efforts and not shy away from the issues. After our 21 remaining community meetings, we hope to have legislation beginning in January."

About the Author

Esther Marr

Esther Marr is a staff writer for The Blood-Horse magazine.

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