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Genomics Partnership Loses Another $591K in Minnesota Budget Deal

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics will see its annual budget reduced by more than $1 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, after Gov. Tim Pawlenty and state lawmakers agreed this week to include in the state's new spending plan much of the $2.7 billion package of cuts originally carried out by the governor last year.

The agreement, incorporated into House File 1, the budget bill signed into law by Pawlenty on Tuesday, resulted in the partnership losing $591,000 in state funds in the 2011 fiscal year.

Combined with another $427,000 ongoing annual reduction set to take effect in FY 2011, the biotech and genomics partnership will see its budget shrink from the current $8 million to just under $7 million in FY 2011, and about $7.5 million in 2011 and each year after.

The Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics is a joint research collaboration of the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota. The partnership awards the larger share of its state funding in research grants — ranging from a half-million dollars to $1 million — and a smaller share of that funding toward grants for equipment, software, and other infrastructure needed by researchers.

Mayo Clinic spokesman Bob Nellis said he had not seen the budget agreement and could not comment.

"The half million dollars that we thought was already cut a year ago, is now really cut," state Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) told GenomeWeb Daily News. "That means they will probably approve less grants, which will mean, of course, less NIH money coming into the state as well, because they often get NIH funds as a result of those grants.

The partnership typically awards competitive grants to about six research projects annually. Following the $427,000 ongoing cut, Nellis told GWDN last month that the funding cut would result in one fewer research project receiving funding each year from the partnership.

Norton contacted GWDN on Tuesday to disclose the $591,000 cut — part of a $2.7 billion package of reductions initially made by Pawlenty to the state's two-year, $34 billion budget last June. On May 5, a divided Minnesota Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Pawlenty illegally used his "unallotment" authority since he and the state legislature had never come to terms on a balanced budget for the two years ending June 30, 2011.

Pawlenty publicly disagreed with the ruling but quickly began talks with legislative leaders that resulted in an agreement plugging a projected $3 billion shortfall for FY '11. Norton said she had sought to reverse the $591,000 cut to the genomics partnership during the talks, as some of Pawlenty's budget cuts involving nursing homes had been restored, "but that wasn't even considered."

Norton also noted that she has sought a law barring further cuts to the partnership's state funding, so far without success.

The budget accord leaves a deficit for the two-year budget period ending June 30, 2013 that has been forecast by the state at $5.8 billion, and could go higher. Democratic-Farmer-Labor party members, who control the legislature, say Pawlenty should have broken his no-tax pledge, while he and other Republicans have pressed lawmakers for more spending cuts.

So next year, lawmakers will have to strike another deal with the successor to Pawlenty, who is leaving office at year's end — amid speculation that he will seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

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