The sale of standardbred horses -- the kind used for harness racing -- hit a record last week at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, with 2,074 horses being sold for a total price of $66.5 million.
That was up from $52 million last year, $56 million in 2004 and $49 million in 2003.
Industry officials suspect that the advent of slot-machine gambling at seven state racetracks, including four harness tracks, may have played a role in the increasing prices for horses and could continue to increase the prices in the future
The average price for a Pennsylvania-bred yearling increased 2.7 percent, from $34,598 in 2005 to $35,547 this year, said Dr. Paul Spears of the Standardbred Horse Sales Co. Horses that are 2 and 3 years old also were sold.
One horse last week was bought by state Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff, who has a dairy farm in Columbia County. He keeps two horses at his farm, where he stays on weekends. He bought one horse last week for $25,000 and another last year for $22,000 at the standardbred sale.
He said both horses are females, called brood mares, and he'll probably use them for breeding foals rather than for racing. The horse he bought last year already gave birth in June to a filly.
He said he's been interested in livestock since he was a boy and is especially interested in using genetics to breed a better quality of animal, both cattle and horses. He has owned numerous horses over the years but sold them when he became agriculture secretary in 2003.
Dianne Berlin, a coordinator for CasinoFreePA, which opposes slot machines and the new racetrack/casinos, questioned whether Mr. Wolff or any state official should be buying horses, whose value could increase over time because of the state's foray into gaming.
She called it a potential conflict of interest and said it is "inappropriate at the very least." She also noted that Mr. Wolff is a nonvoting member of the state Gaming Control Board.
Mr. Wolff disagreed, saying, "That's a stretch," and said there is nothing wrong with him buying a horse or two. He said his horses would be more valuable for racing, and thus for profit at resale, if they were males.
He said the slots law was approved in July 2004, which was before he bought either horse and probably caused him to pay a higher price that he otherwise would have paid.
He said state law prohibits him from racing his horses at Pennsylvania tracks even if he wanted to, which he doesn't. He said the law permits him to own horses. He said he could race horses in Canada, New Jersey, New York or Delaware, but probably will just breed more foals.
THANKS FOR ALL THE MEMORIES
The legislative session has not yet ended, but the swan songs already have begun.
One by one, outgoing House members have been taking over the House speaker's rostrum this week to say their farewells, thank their colleagues and, in some cases, get in a few last digs at reporters who some lawmakers accuse of fueling the flames of last year's pay-raise vote, which led to their ouster.
Rep. Stephen Maitland, R-Gettysburg, offered the most controversial words in his speech Tuesday.
"The most disturbing thing to me about the pay-raise reaction was how people assumed the worst of us and refused to listen to reason," Mr. Maitland said.
He said he has no regrets about supporting the pay raise and he blamed voters for making emotional votes instead of rational ones on Election Day. He compared Election Day to a church meeting where people who never attend services suddenly show up to vote on whether the pastor deserves a raise.
We at Capitol Notes have heard lawmakers compared to a lot of things, but pastors are a first.
Meanwhile, in speeches that ranged from trite to bitter, other lawmakers quoted Robert Frost, Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin and songwriter Hughie Charles.
In a speech resembling a commencement address, Rep. Marie Lederer, D-Philadelphia, quoted Helen Keller. Happiness "is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose," she quoted.
Rep. Frank Pistella, D-Bloomfield, thanked his mother and recited Frost's famous "Road Less Traveled."
Rep. Dennis Leh, R-Berks, urged a standing ovation for his secretary.
Rep. Thomas Tigue, D-Luzerne referred to song titles "Thanks for the Memories" and "We'll Meet Again."
Meanwhile, Rep. Robert Flick, R-Chester, used his time at the podium to take a parting shot at reporters.
"Some of you who suckle at the bosom of disgruntled lawmakers: get a life," he said. "I was going to say kiss my cheek but I don't think Clancey (Myers, House parliamentarian) would like that so I won't."
Tim Potts, head of the advocacy group Democracy Rising PA, quickly came to reporters' defense.
"Without the media, we would know very little about the problems of government and how to solve them. No wonder 'gruntled' lawmakers hate the media," he wrote in a news-of-the-day e-mail sent to his group's mailing list. "No wonder supporters of democracy also love a free media, despite its faults."
Faults? What faults? (Just kidding, Tim.)
ONE FAULT WE READILY ADMIT
Capitol reporters -- with the possible exception of our competitor John Baer, of the Daily News in Philadelphia, -- are not known for being snazzy dressers.
Surely the women of the Capitol newsroom (yours truly included) can take a lesson from Pennsylvania's first ladies, past and present.
Our chance is coming.
The State Museum soon will exhibit gowns first ladies have worn to inaugural balls and special events.
The collection ranges from the gown Mary McAllister Beaver wore to her husband's inaugural ball in 1887 to the one Marjorie O. Rendell wore to the current governor's 2003 ball.
See for yourself from Dec. 3 to Feb. 25 at the museum in downtown Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.statemuseumpa.org.
FRANKEL STEPS UP
Democratic state reps from Allegheny County have selected Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, as chairman of their 19-member delegation for the next session.
Mr. Frankel replaces Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, who was elected to House Democratic leadership as caucus secretary.
"I and the county delegation are committed to working with the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County governments, and the region, to further common goals and interests," Mr. Frankel said.
The delegation chose Marc Gergely, D-White Oak, as vice chairman and Rep.-elect Chelsa Wagner, D-Beechview, as secretary-treasurer.
FORGIVENESS IS IMPORTANT
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency has extended the deadline for a student loan forgiveness program for military personnel to include those who have served on active duty between Sept. 11, 2001, and June 30, 2007.
Applications for loan forgiveness will now be accepted until Dec. 31, 2007.
State Sen. Sean Logan, D-Monroeville, a PHEAA board member, pushed for the extension. The program provides a one-time payment of up to $2,500 toward eligible education loans. It was created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
More details are available from PHEAA at 1-800-233-0557 or by going to www.PHEAA.org.
As of Nov. 1, Mr. Logan said, almost 7,000 service members had received $16 million through the program.
How they voted
In a 163-29 vote last week, the House approved a measure to phase out a tax on inherited property over the next four years. The tax amounts to up to 15 percent of estate value, depending on the heir's relationship to the deceased. Opponents said there is no plan to replace the lost revenue, which would amount to more than $600 million a year.
Here's how your representative voted:REPUBLICANS
Mike Diven, BrooklineYBrian Ellis, ButlerYJohn Maher, Upper St. ClairYDaryl Metcalfe, CranberryYMark Mustio, MoonYJeff Pyle, Ford CityYJess Stairs, Mount PleasantYDick Stevenson, Grove CityYTom Stevenson, Mt. LebanonYMike Turzai, Bradford WoodsY
Majority Leader H. William
Vince Biancucci, AliquippaYJames Casorio, IrwinYPaul Costa, WilkinsYPeter Daley, CaliforniaYAnthony DeLuca, Penn HillsYFrank Dermody, OakmontYShawn Flaherty, Fox ChapelYDan Frankel, Squirrel HillYMarc J. Gergely, White OakYR. Ted Harhai, MonessenYNick Kotik, RobinsonYFrank LaGrotta, Ellwood CityAbsentVictor Lescovitz, MidwayYDavid Levdansky, ForwardNJoseph Markosek, MonroevilleYJohn Pallone, New KensingtonYJoseph Petrarca, VandergriftYThomas Petrone, Crafton HeightsYFrank Pistella, BloomfieldYJoseph Preston, East LibertyYSean Ramaley, ConwayYHarry Readshaw, CarrickYChris Sainato, LawrenceYLarry Roberts, HopwoodYKen Ruffing, West MifflinNJames Shaner, Lemont FurnaceYTim Solobay, CanonsburgYThomas Tangretti, GreensburgYMike Veon, Beaver FallsNDon Walko, North SideNJake Wheatley, Hill DistrictY