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Cuomo has to rethink his proposal to slash funding for Roswell Park

It is deja vu all over again as Roswell Park Cancer Institute faces the threat of a major cut in its state subsidy.

Annual state support for Roswell Park has remained stable at $102.6 million in the last three fiscal years. But that stability came only after the community united in opposition to the governor’s plan to end state funding entirely.

This time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed state budget cuts funding for Roswell Park by $15.5 million, to $87.1 million. The State Legislature, as it has previously, should work to restore that funding. Meanwhile, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, has pledged to work at the federal level to ensure the government continues its funding.

The timing on the proposed budget cut could not have been worse. The institute is still in the process of building a new $40 million Clinical Sciences Center at Michigan Avenue and Carlton Street, and is in the midst of a search for a new president/CEO.

While Roswell Park is not wholly dependent upon state funding, it is still a significant part of the mix – currently 15 percent of the institute’s $663 million operating budget.

The governor has stated over the years his desire to see the institute become “operationally independent,” at one point setting the cutoff date for March 2014.

Independence from state subsidies should be the goal, and all indications point to the institute’s desire to get to that point. However, the drawdown in aid should be linked to Roswell Park’s ability to raise other funds, not to an arbitrary date on a calendar. Half of the state funding is given right back to the state Dormitory Authority for capital improvements that have been made at the institute.

Roswell Park, one of 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, continues to distinguish itself. The comprehensive cancer center designation indicates that it meets all three standards established by the National Cancer Institute for cancer prevention, medical services and research. The designation helps attract researchers, other government and industry grants and charitable donations.

The institute is a critical piece of the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, as recognized by the governor. Cuomo recently awarded Roswell Park a four-year, $11.9 million grant from New York State Stem Cell Science for cutting-edge research into new therapies for advanced ovarian cancer.

As Higgins said, when new breakthroughs are made in immunotherapy and other promising cancer treatments, we want those discoveries to be made at Roswell Park. Besides the health benefits, new therapies could generate licensing fees and other economic spinoffs. To decrease Roswell Park’s funding now will potentially undermine the institute’s ability to become economically independent and self-sufficient.

Roswell Park employs more than 3,000 people, a number increasing every day. It is a major piece in the rebirth of downtown Buffalo.

With construction under way on the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital and about to begin on the University at Buffalo’s new Medical School, the state is helping create a health care colossus. It should not at the same time be trying to hinder a key player in the Medical Campus.