The Utah Horse Commission is out of the starting gate, but Gov. Norm Bangerter has delivered only half of the $200,000 budget earmarked in the bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year.
The governor on Tuesday allowed the bill to become law without his signature but used his line-item veto to eliminate funding for the second year of the commission."I believe there is merit in establishing a horse commission, but I believe it ought to be self-sufficient in the near future," Bangerter said.
Horse-industry lobbyists were disappointed by the governor's decision and said the move may push them to conduct a petition drive to put pari-mutuel betting to a vote of the people.
"I don't know where he thinks we're going to get the money. I guess the overall answer would be pari-mutuel betting," said Mac Murray, chairman of Citizens to Put Utah First, a non-profit group that lobbies on behalf of Utah's multimillion-dollar horse industry.
Murray said the group will meet within a few days to discuss its next move.
The lobbying group initially sought legislation to legalize pari-mutuel wagering, but the bill died amid strong opposition from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which opposes gambling on moral grounds.
Next, lawmakers introduced a bill that would provide a $500,000 subsidy to the horse industry. Lawmakers eventually passed a bill that established a commission to oversee racing activities in Utah and provided $200,000 in funding, which the governor cut by half Tuesday.
The governor said he allowed the bill to become law without his signature because he does not like the funding mechanism for the commission, which increases pesticide fees.
"Maybe they can figure out a way to make it work without us having to subsidize it," Bangerter said.
While the governor personally opposes legalized gambling, he said the horse lobby is free to seek other options, including circulating petitions to put the issue before the voters.
"That's a legitimate process. My tradition has been if people don't like what the Legislature has done then that option is open to them," Bangerter said.
Said Murray: "It appears to me that's what the governor wants us to do, which is a total reversal of a couple months ago."