Tar Heel View: On cancer funding
We don’t care much for legislative spending mandates, but there are times when cutting a mandate, regardless of its value, becomes a matter of putting dogma over common sense.
This year, the General Assembly redirected funds from the national tobacco settlement to the General Fund. In past years, $8 million of that money had been very appropriately earmarked for the N.C. Cancer Hospital.
In 2007, the legislature began appropriating funds to the hospital to draw down huge private and government grants to fight cancer. In most years since, the appropriation has been $50 million, and there was language in the law that said the legislature would appropriate that much every year. Those funds were budgeted even in the depths of the recession.
But this year $8 million was cut; another $42 million is still in the budget. For many programs, that might sound like a reasonable cut in a tight budget year, except that, first, cancer is a very unreasonable disease and, second, the budget was tight this year only because legislators chose to enact a major tax cut for some of the state’s wealthiest residents.
It isn’t a coincidence that the 2007 General Assembly started this funding. It was in that year that cancer supplanted heart disease as the leading cause of death for North Carolinians. And at our cancer hospital, some of the world’s most renowned scientists have been working to find cures and treatments with the money that began to flow that year.
Let’s put aside the human cost here, however, and look just at economics and jobs. The cancer hospital has used this money to draw down grants from other sources at a rate of four-to-one. That means the missing $8 million would have likely led to another $32 million in grants this year, money that would have been spent in North Carolina. And much of that money would have then generated both jobs and tax revenues.
Not all earmarks are bad. Just ask any cancer patient who has benefited from treatments developed at our hospital.
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