The Texas Senate Finance Committee has approved a $195.5 billion budget, which continues to leave CPRIT funding out. However, there appears to be tacit approval from Senate budget writers for key CPRIT recruitment grants.
The Texas Senate Finance Committee passed a $195.5 billion dollar budget for the State of Texas on Wednesday, including widespread spending on new programs that span education, law enforcement, and mental health services. The budget appropriation for CPRIT funding, however, remained conspicuously absent from the ledger.
According to the Texas Tribune, although the new budget does not return funding to the embattled cancer research grant institution, there does appear to be tacit approval among key legislators to fund $71 million dollars worth of recruitment-oriented grants, given what’s at stake for the Texas biotech sector:
“The budget does not include funding for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which remains embroiled in questions of cronyism. [Senate Finance Chair Tommy] Williams asked committee members how to address $71 million worth of recruitment grants that were awarded before a moratorium was instituted on the agency’s awards. Several senators said they felt CPRIT was justified in moving forward with the grants since the recipients had been notified. Some quit jobs or moved to Texas in response.”
It would appear that the Texas Legislature’s willingness to grant these $71 million in recruitment grants suggests that there is a desire to see CPRIT’s regular grant funding processes resume. However, there is a palpable sense of trepidation even in how these recruitment grants are to be approved. According to the Houston Chronicle:
Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, didn’t ask for a formal vote but asked members to give a sense of how they would like the agency to proceed.
“I think the agency is looking for some direction from the Senate Finance Committee before they proceed with these recruitment grants,” Williams said.
You’ll recall that news of the CPRIT recruitment grants unfolded on March 4th, when Interim CPRIT Chief Wayne Roberts formally asked the Governor and the Speaker to consider approval of these particular recruitment grants. After a misinterpretation by the Texas press, who assumed that the CPRIT funding freeze was being lifted, the media has had to walk the story back a bit, with the Texas legislature today demonstrating that even these recruitment grants will receive a great deal of scrutiny before being approved. Most likely, this slow, painstaking process is a harbinger of how future grant processes will be handled with more government oversight.
However, the prevailing sense is that, at the very least, the CPRIT recruitment grants will receive the approval needed in order to move forward:
“My position would be we need to follow through with these recruitment grants,” said Sen. Juan Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat who is Finance Committee vice-chairman. “We cannot just leave them hanging out there.”
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said the recruits are “the best and the brightest” in cancer research and that it would be “shortsighted” for the state not to follow through on its commitment.
“We need these people,” agreed Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, a leader on the agency overhaul.
What remains to be seen, however, is when CPRIT will resume full operations. And considering that the Texas legislature has only a limited amount of time to reinstate CPRIT, the clock continues to tick,