By JOSELYN KING
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING — A bill to eliminate the West Virginia Greyhound Breeding Development Fund is set for a possible third reading and vote in the House of Delegates today, but there is a dead heat to the finish as a close vote is expected.
Senate Bill 437 has been delayed on its second of third readings since Tuesday, giving local delegates reason to think House leadership did not have support to pass the measure. The legislation is on the agenda for its possible third and final reading and vote for passage today.
The delegates are uncertain as to a potential outcome.
“I have no clue,” said Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio. “I don’t think leadership had the votes, and that’s why they kept delaying it. But now it’s getting to the place where we have to have the figures in place for the budget. I’ve never seen one delayed as long as this one has been delayed. It could have a huge impact on Wheeling — and it’s all negative.”
There could be job losses and decreases in property value at the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, according to Storch, who also serves as president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce. About half of the city of Wheeling’s tax increment financing revenue is derived from the track, and this money has been used to help fund a number of recent development projects in downtown Wheeling, including building demolition and site preparation for The Health Plan’s future headquarters and facade renovation at the adjacent Horne’s building.
“The vote is close,” said Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio. “Leadership delayed the bill in an effort to influence votes. Today we learned what I expected all along — leadership has no clue of the financial impact of this bill. They didn’t even bother to follow the rules and provide a fiscal note or economic impact statement. We have a process for a reason and it is not being followed.”
Fluharty cited figures from a 2014 Spectrum Gaming study indicating 1,700 jobs related to greyhound racing would be lost if breeders subsidies were eliminated, with 1,100 attributed to the Wheeling track.
“The industry spurs millions in economic activity for our state, including the support of our local city pensions,” Fluharty said. “The state’s share on greyhounds actually surpasses thoroughbreds because they are taxed at a higher rate and the industry grew in the past year. Quite simply, this bill is fiscally irresponsible and makes us less competitive as a state.”
Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, also questioned the actions of GOP leadership regarding the breeder’s bill.
“It’s a poor way to go about things,” he said. “They are only acting on this not because they think it’s right and proper, but because they don’t want to cut their spending in Charleston. If anything, we should just give the tracks their own money back — not simply strip what little they get back from all of the special taxes placed on them, diverting it all to the government.”
SB 437, if it becomes law, would discontinue the West Virginia Racing Commission’s special account known as the West Virginia Greyhound Breeding Development Fund. The fund is set to pay out an estimated $15 million to dog breeders this year.
Money that goes into the account is paid by the tracks that have dog racing, and is based on a percentage of video lottery revenue generated at the tracks. Under the legislation, the money instead would be redirected to the state’s general revenue fund for redistribution by the Legislature.
The legislation does not affect a similar fund in the state for horse breeders.
Senate Bill 386, a measure that would create the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, faced an obstacle Thursday evening as House leadership had refused to assign it to a committee, which would have effectively killed the legislation.
But a motion to dispense with the reference was made and approved on the House floor, allowing the legislation to have a first reading. It is set for a second reading today.
The motion to dispense passed 54-40, with the following local delegates voting in favor: McGeehan; Fluharty; Storch; Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock; Phil Diserio, D-Brooke; Mike Ferro and Joe Canestraro, both D-Marshall; and David Pethtel, D-Wetzel. Voting in opposition was William “Roger” Romine, R-Tyler.
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