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State Funds for Jackson Lab Florida Campus Hinge on Derailing Medicaid Cuts

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — A week after Florida Gov. Charlie Crist approved a state budget that included $50 million in funds and a three-year commitment to spend $130 million for The Jackson Laboratory's planned campus near Naples, the research institute may not see that money after all.

Crist and state lawmakers who amended the budget to include the Jackson Lab funding planned to pay for that with a share of the roughly $1 billion Florida expected to receive in additional Medicaid funds under the approximately $100 billion so-called jobs bill pending before Congress.

HR 4213, dubbed the "American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010," was to have included $24 billion in additional Medicaid subsidies to states before the money was cut from the bill that passed the US House of Representatives by 215-204 on May 28. House Democratic leaders sought to placate fiscal conservatives in their own party, who had joined Republicans in opposing the Medicaid spending.

During the coming week, the measure is expected to be considered by the US Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is seeking re-election this year, has promised to fight for full restoration of the funding. The Medicaid money includes $100 million that Nevada officials had counted on to balance their state's budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The $24 billion reflects a six-month extension, through June 30, 2011, of the increase in the federal share of Medicaid costs enacted in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, set to end Dec. 31. If the Medicaid funding is not extended, or if part of it is, Jackson Lab would have to raise the money some other way.

"We really haven't given a lot of thought to what we would do if the Florida budget comes unraveled. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Michael Hyde, Jackson Lab's vice president for advancement and external relations, told GenomeWeb Daily News earlier this week. "Our approach to this all along has been to keep plodding along, one foot in front of the other. Plan B is to try to make Plan A work."

Jackson Lab is headquartered in Bar Harbor, Me., with a West Coast facility in Sacramento, Calif. Florida is one of three main funding sources for the proposed Florida campus. The budget amendment that set aside state funding for Jackson Lab requires a funding match by Collier County, as well as $120 million of the laboratory's own funds as "cash or credit worthy personal guarantees of philanthropic support."

Over the coming decade, Jackson Lab has projected it will spend $750 million to launch a third campus dedicated to personalized medicine. Laboratory faculty members are ironing out details of the research to take place there, Hyde said.

"We anticipate moving here to a much more immediate clinical focus," Hyde said earlier this month to a panel of reporters hosted by the Naples Press Club. "Our research will be centered on the examination of the human genome, isolating the variations that account for health and disease, and working very closely and collaboratively with medical institutions and research institutions, in Florida and around the world, to translate that into actual treatments for people."

Jackson Lab elaborated further in the project's economic study: "It will house 10 wet labs using whole-genome sequencing to study diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and breast and colon cancer, 10 bioinformatics and computational biology labs, and 5 induced pluripotent stem cell labs.

"Scientists at the Institute will develop the premiere definitive bioinformatics database of individual whole-genome sequences correlated to disease progression and response to therapies," the study added.

Collier County officials have said publicly that they will unveil their plan for funding part of the Jackson Lab project on June 22, with the goal of coming to a final decision by July 27.

The laboratory has spent recent weeks building a consensus of business, academic, and government leaders willing to champion the project. Supporters have projected benefits that range from the 200 jobs Jackson Labs plans to create within three to four years of the facility's opening, to the 18,079 direct and indirect jobs predicted by the year 2032 in the economic study, to the prospect of better-paying jobs in a county eager to broaden its economy beyond tourism and agriculture.

But the project has also drawn opposition by some civic leaders and residents who question why Jackson Lab needs nine-figure state and local government support. In letters and opinion columns in local newspapers, project critics have equated the subsidy package with corporate welfare, and lit into one option Collier County is considering for raising at least part of the money — a tax or "franchise fee" to be tacked onto utility bills.

Hyde said Jackson Lab has seen promising results in its early fundraising from community supporters — namely about $13 million in contingent pledges tied to the project being developed as planned.

"We're very pleased by that," Hyde said.

Jackson Lab funding survived a line-item veto review of Florida's new budget by Crist that resulted in him cutting $371 million in state spending on numerous projects, many sought by Republican legislative leaders.

Last month, Crist left the GOP, and began refashioning himself as an independent, in hopes of reviving his campaign for US Senate. He faces likely Republican nominee Marco Rubio, the former state House speaker, and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

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