Gov. Gregoire’s Budget Axe Leaves Life Sciences Discovery Fund Unscathed

Xconomy Seattle — 

Washington state’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund has apparently survived the first round of major budget cuts circulating in Olympia.

Gov. Chris Gregoire released her proposed state budget this morning that makes deep cuts in aid to college students, state health insurance for poor people, and assistance to the disabled. But based on an initial read of the document this morning, the state commitment for biomedical research has been left untouched, according to Life Sciences Discovery Fund executive director Lee Huntsman. The fund still stands to get $39 million through the two-year budget cycle that ends in 2011.

“As far as I can tell, they’re leaving the Life Sciences Discovery Fund alone. It’s great news,” Huntsman says. He added that he hasn’t heard anything from the Governor’s office, or the state Office of Financial Management, but that he and his staff have reviewed the proposal.

Gov. Gregoire is in a familiar position of having to balance a budget that’s expected to run a $2.6 billion budget deficit. The Seattle Times’ Andrew Garber, reporting from Olympia today, noted that the Governor may still choose to raise taxes instead of cutting into so many safety nets for vulnerable people.

The Life Sciences Discovery Fund has been one of Gregoire’s key programs to spur economic development, since it was approved by lawmakers in 2005. The program was designed to be a 10-year, $350 million project, from the state’s legal settlement with the tobacco companies, to raise the state’s competitive standing as a biotech hub. But back in April, during another round of budget cutting, the state fund was threatened with basic elimination and was ultimately cut by 41 percent over the two-year budget cycle. The fund expects to receive $39 million from 2009 through 2011, Huntsman says.

Some of the state money has gone toward financing research and development of new vaccines, ways to deliver RNA interference drugs more efficiently into cells, and to improve treatment of people suffering from cardiac arrest, as I described in this story on a round of grants a year ago.

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