$17 million of Pa. tobacco settlement money diverted from medical research
July 2, 2012By Carolyn Beeler
About $17 million earmarked for medical research in Pennsylvania will be diverted in the new state budget to help cover the rising costs of long-term care.
Gov. Tom Corbett's original budget proposed in February diverted about $60 million from the tobacco settlement fund. After legislative wrangling, less than a third of that research money is actually being cut -- the portion dedicated to competitive grants.
"It could have been worse, we could have lost the whole thing," said Fox Chase Cancer Center scientific director Jon Chernoff. Chernoff said the most important chunk, which generally funds longer-term projects, is intact.
"I'm happy that they preserved the bulk of this, but I am concerned about what's going to happen now in future years since it seems that the governors are having an easier and easier time raiding these funds," Chernoff said.
This year, Fox Chase received about $2.5 million in so-called 'formula' funds, which are tied to the amount of National Institutes of Health funding an institution gets. They won about $200,000 in the competitive grant program that will disappear in the upcoming fiscal year. Those grants are awarded to projects focusing on a specific research theme each year.
Wistar Institute president Russel Kaufman said the formula funding has become a stable source for long-term projects. Cutting it would have reversed years of work.
"If a scientist starts a project and builds up all of the resources that they need to keep that project going, if they lose funding even for a short period of time, they can lose the team. They can lose the reagents and the materials that they need to keep these things going," Kaufman said. "You can't just freeze them down and then restart the project again."
The money won in a settlement from big tobacco companies was dedicated to health, including health insurance, smoking-cessation programs and research, in 2001.
Since 2009, portions have been moved to the general fund to balance the budget.
The Department of Health has said the redirection of a portion of the almost $332 million dollar fund for fiscal year 2012-2013 is necessary to ensure critical services continue despite a tight budget.