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Politics

Buffalo's Roswell Park threatened by funding cutoff

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Roswell Park Cancer Institute CEO Dr. Donald Trump could be in for months of legislative wrangling over language in Gov. Cuomo's budget that would eliminate state funding in 2014.

Beyond the words of Governor’s Andrew Cuomo’s blustering budget speech is the fine print of the actual spending proposal.

Hospital and research hub Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) is set to receive $100 million in 2012 if Cuomo’s budget is enacted as is. But this year, the funds come with a catch.

According to Cuomo’s budget, RPCI should “expand its collaboration in the Buffalo region … to allow for a transition from state support” by the end of March 2014.  

In other words, RPCI will have to wean itself off state funding in just a few years.

While RPCI officials have refused comment so far, the organization released a statement early Wednesday:

“We are energized by the opportunity to further refine the organizational structure of RPCI. However, there are concerns about the proposed legislative language in its failure to recognize the complexities of state-imposed costs and mandates, the abbreviated timeframe proposed for transition, the need for ongoing research funding streams and the restrictive nature of the potential reconfiguration,”

In other words, RPCI disagrees with the governor’s spending plan, to put it lightly. Expect hospital officials to make a fuss (like last year) ahead of legislative wrangling over the budget. Just because the threat of a funding cutoff exists in Cuomo’s proposal, does not mean it’s written in stone.

Funding cutoff “inconsistent” with Cuomo’s Buffalo vision

Attention surrounding Cuomo’s promise of $1 billion to Buffalo has dominated western New York headlines for the past few weeks. Not having heard about the pledge could feasibly relegate a person to have-you-been-living-under-a-rock status.

This year’s state budget, untinkered with, would kick start the effort with an initial $100 million in 2012.

“If we invest in Buffalo and we turn around Buffalo and Buffalo is generating jobs, it adds to our balance sheet,” Cuomo said in his budget address.

The governor has suggested using these special funds to grow a cluster around Buffalo’s burgeoning health and life sciences sector at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. RPCI is a cornerstone of this effort and one of the region’s largest employers and economic drivers.

A forced “transition from state support” by RPCI would prove counterproductive, especially given Cuomo’s vision for his “billion for Buffalo,” says Tom Kucharski with the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise.

“We would like to be able to grow with bioinformatics and genomics and other things going on on the campus, with Roswell being critical to those [efforts], especially on the cancer end,” he says. “I would find it very inconsistent to have a growing life science cluster around the [Buffalo Niagara] Medical Campus without Roswell Park being a significant player in that in the future.”

A mixed bag for Buffalo budget-wise

While a pillar of his State of the State speech just weeks ago, Cuomo only briefly spoke to his “billion for Buffalo” pledge during Tuesday’s speech.

Critics have questioned the special use of taxpayer funds aimed to boost a solitary city when New York has many areas struggling economically. The idea seems to contradict Cuomo’s philosophy of economic synergy used to justify creating 10 Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) last year.

At the launch of the REDC initiative, Cuomo said, “I know there’s lines on a map but the lines mean nothing when it comes to economic reality … There is no economic future just for Jamestown (N.Y.) discreet from Buffalo, discreet from Erie. It’s not going to work that way.”

Still, $100 million towards the $1 billion pledge in 2012 represents only .05 percent, or one-twentieth of one percent, of next year’s state budget.

Fanning out the $1 billion over five or more years will allow Buffalo-area officials a certain litheness in what’s envisioned as a multi-pronged approach toward reviving the city’s long-dormant economy, Cuomo says.

“The funds are flexible depending on what the business plan is that actually comes to Buffalo,” he says.
“Until we have a specific plan: $100 million this year and $100 million next year.”

Elsewhere

Other Buffalo institutions fared well in Cuomo’s budget proposal.

While SUNY’s budget will likely remain flat this year, the University at Buffalo has an opportunity to snag $20 million for large projects from a renewed NY SUNY 2020 fund. While that represents a drop from $35 million from 2011, UB will most likely apply the money towards an already-greenlit new medical school eyed for downtown’s Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC).

Cuomo’s budget also includes $75 million for a so-called “Buffalo Regional Innovation Cluster” program that would try to create synergies between local health and life science companies.

And the state’s 10 regional councils will compete again for a $1 billion pot of already-existing economic development funds. In 2011, Western New York’s REDC took home the second largest lump of funds ($100.3 million) following a contest between the councils drawn up by Cuomo as his top economic development enterprise.

While Cuomo’s 2012 proposal could be nipped and tucked or altogether reformed, Buffalo should be happy about where the city stands in the governor’s priorities, says Kucharski.

“Real happy that [Cuomo] recognized that we’re the anchor on the other end of the state.”

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