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Pennsylvania Governor's Ailing $500M Biotech Spending Boost Gets Reprieve

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell’s fragile plan to boost the state’s biotech spending by $500 million came closer to winning a new lease on life last week when the governor and legislative leaders agreed in principle on a new general fund portion of the state’s operating budget.
The budget deal was approved July 15 by a state House-Senate conference committee, followed over the next two days by formal approvals by both houses and Rendell. The governor signed the $27.2 billion budget into law July 17, eight days after he furloughed 23,562 state workers deemed non-essential, and after the state Senate promised it would vote on the proposed Jonas Salk Legacy Fund by Nov. 1. The House passed Salk on June 25.
The Salk fund would pay for the construction of new biotech laboratories and incubator facilities statewide for institutions and their affiliated medical centers now eligible for health research grants under the state’s Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement program, known as CURE.
CURE recipients could use Salk funding to buy specialized equipment that would be used by faculty newly recruited to colleges and universities throughout Pennsylvania. Institutions receiving Salk funds would have to get matching funds from the state.
The Salk fund would also require the state to direct 2 percent of its tobacco settlement money, or $6.7 million, to a new Health Venture Investment Account to encourage venture capital investments in startup and early-stage life science companies. Another 2 percent would go to the state’s three regional biotechnology centers, called Life Science Greenhouses, in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh.
The $500 million Rendell wants for the Salk fund would come from the state borrowing against 9.5 percent of its tobacco-settlement money. That was a change the governor made this year to his original Salk plan as a concession to legislative leaders who expressed concerns about how the program would be funded.
Rendell “has done an immense amount of borrowing. And the question is, in light of the fact we’ve already passed bills recently that will do additional borrowing, there’s always a question of whether more borrowing is the answer,” Drew Crompton, counsel to state Senate president pro tempore Joseph Scarnati III (R-Jefferson), told GenomeWeb Daily News sister publication BioRegion News last week.
Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Commerce and Economic Development, said the Rendell administration would spend the next few months working to persuade state senators that Salk merits their support — in part by promoting its potential for creating jobs.
“There’s a strong case for Salk in terms of attracting top-notch researchers into the state and being able to garner additional NIH dollars on a federal level,” Ortiz said. “This is an initiative that will [bring] at least 13,000 good-paying jobs to the commonwealth.”

The complete version of this article appears in the current issue of BioRegion News, a GenomeWeb Daily News sister publication.

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