Think the horse industry doesn’t have a large impact on the U.S. economy? Think again. According to figures presented by the American Horse Council in 2005, we have a far-reaching effect:
• There are 9.2 million horses in the United States in all 50 states.
• 4.6 million Americans are involved in some aspect of the horse industry—as an owner, service provider, employee and/or volunteer.
• The horse industry has a 39 billion dollar direct effect on the U.S. economy.
• When you consider the multiplier effect of spending by horse people on related goods, the economic impact jumps to $102 billion.
• The industry provides 460,000 full time equivalent jobs.
• The horse industry pays $1.9 billion annually in taxes to all levels of government.
Who Represents Us?
It is the official role of the American Horse Council (AHC) to promote and protect “all horse breeds, disciplines and interests by communicating with Congress, federal agencies, the media and the industry itself each and every day.” AHC’s membership includes 160 organizations and 1,200 individual members.
According to Jay Hickey, president of the AHC, currently there are three main legislative fronts requiring lobbying efforts: gambling, immigration and taxes. In addition to these efforts, there are several other equine issues on the national stage.
While complete immigration reform was important and a major pre-election topic for President Obama, Hickey does not see it being brought up in 2009. The AHC supports immigration reform to facilitate a way to bring in workers and legalize those that are already here.
Currently, there is a cap of 66,000 H-2B visas issued annually, and this year that cap was reached on January 7, causing a dire shortage of workers for many industries, including the horse industry. The H-2B visas allow foreign, specialized workers to come in for an 18-month stint for a specific function. In February 2009, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MO) and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) introduced the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2009. Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Under the proposed acts, workers who had an H-2B visa in any of the three previous fiscal years would be exempt from the cap. However, this exemption will expire three years after the bill is enacted. Still, this would allow for more individuals to receive the work visa, and give Congress additional time to craft a more permanent solution. The AHC supports this legislation.
Economic Stimulus Bill
The horse industry has received numerous benefits from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, otherwise known as the stimulus bill. Those who purchase a horse or other business property and put it into service in 2009 can expense up to $250,000 of the cost. This applies to horses, farm equipment and other depreciable property. If the total purchase is $800,000 or more, the expense allowed decreases by $1 for every dollar spent over $800,000. Owners are allowed to depreciate horses over three years instead of up to seven years.
Another incentive continues the 50-percent first-year bonus depreciation for horses and other depreciable property purchased and put into service in 2009. There are a few requirements, though. The bonus is applicable to any property with a depreciable life of 20 years or less. The property must be new, and if said property is a horse, it cannot have been used for any purpose before buying it.
Many of the details can be confusing. To find out if/how you might qualify for the stimulus bill it is best to talk to your tax accountant.
Funding for Recreational Trails
Also part of the stimulus bill is more than $1.7 billion that goes to the National Park Service ($750 million), U.S. Forest Service ($650 million) and the Bureau of Land Management ($320 million). These funds can be used for maintenance and construction of trails and other equine-related facilities. Competition for these funds will be fierce, but the AHC urges that money be spent for trails and other equestrian facilities.
The AHC is working to keep the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which provides money to support motorized and non-motorized trail uses. It began in 1991 and was re-authorized in 2005, and over the years has provided about $677 million for trail construction, maintenance and restoration. “The RTP is one of the few sources for federal funding of trail projects that are not on federal land,” says Ben Pendergrass (AHC Legislative Director). “The program is a great resource for equestrians to fund projects in their state and local parks.” However, if Congress doesn’t act this year, it could be eliminated. Not only would the AHC like to see the bill reauthorized, it would like spending to increase to $555 million over five years.
Wild Horse and Burro Act
Also in February 2009, Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced a bill to amend the current Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (aka the Mustang Bill) with the idea to improve the management and long term health of free-ranging horses. In 2005, the ban on selling wild horses was lifted. These horses could now be sold for commercial purposes and excess animals could be sold at public auction. In other words, wild horses could be sold to slaughter.
The new bill would restore the prohibition on commercial sale and slaughter and also not allow healthy horses to be euthanized—only the terminally ill. A horse inventory would have to be kept as well as specific land used for public sanctuaries. Currently, the Bureau of Land Management manages over 33,000 free-roaming horses and burros on public land. In April, this bill passed the House committee and will head for a full House vote.
Currently there are no equine slaughter plants in the U.S., but several states may open facilities. Hickey predicts the slaughter issue will be a “big part of this Congress” as it has been in past years. The AHC remains neutral on the subject of slaughter.