One of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s prime strategies for economic development was threatened with a death sentence, but it looks like the plan will survive after all, albeit in diminished form. The House compromise budget released online calls for $38 million in funding for the Life Sciences Discovery Fund over the next two-year budget cycle.
This represents a 41 percent cut to the program, but it is a real reprieve, considering the alternative. I broke the story in this space two weeks ago that the fund was in jeopardy of being essentially shut down by an earlier budget bill that passed the state House. What this compromise means is that the House went along with the less drastic cuts that were proposed by the state Senate.
The Life Sciences Discovery Fund was established in 2005 by lawmakers as a way to strengthen Washington’s competitive standing as a research and development hub for biotech and medical devices. The program was originally supposed to run for 10 years, and spend an estimated $350 million of state revenue from the state’s legal settlement with tobacco companies. The program really only started ramping up last year, and has made 21 competitive grants to researchers in the state for a combined $51 million. The work has gone to projects supporting development of new vaccines, ways to deliver biotech drugs into cells, and defibrillators to help improve treatment of cardiac arrest.
Of course, lawmakers looked to make cuts in this program, and many others, as they stared at a record $9 billion shortfall in revenues to meet state expenses over the coming two-year budget cycle. The latest budget compromise bill still needs to pass the Legislature and win the Governor’s signature, but the most dangerous storm for the Discovery Fund seems to have passed.
“This session has been one of tremendous challenges and we are pleased that the Legislature reached agreement to continue funding this important global health program. Should it pass the Legislature, the funding will help ensure a solid foundation for the future of health care,” said Pearse Edwards, the Governor’s spokesman.
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