JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Gov. Bob Holden pledged to dedicate a large portion of tobacco settlement proceeds to life sciences research, saying a $32.5 million annual allocation would constitute an "investment" in the state's future.
The proposal would fund grants for research into agriculture, medicine, food sciences and biotechnology at large public institutions such as MU over 25 years.
Holden also called for the creation of a telemedicine center at MU, proposing a $4 million grant to establish a long distance health center that would improve access to medical services and specialists in underserved communities.
The funding for both proposals would be contingent on settlement of related tobacco lawsuits.
Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, applauded Holden's proposals, saying the newly elected governor focused on issues important to MU and the state.
"I was really pleased to hear that emphasis on life sciences," Wilson said. "I think he pointed out very well the link between research and creating better lives for people."
Holden, who also recommended a 3.6 percent budget increase for the University of Missouri System, proposed the life sciences funding despite an expected $300 million budget shortfall in FY 2001 and vocal criticism from Republican lawmakers who oppose allocating the tobacco settlement without public input.
The governor's proposals would be subject to the normal appropriations process, something Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia, said may prove difficult.
"I'm certainly hopeful that he's right and we're able to overcome those things," Harlan said, stressing that the newly elected Holden would have to unite legislators. "I'm not under any illusion that it's going to be easy."
Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, cautioned that competing budget priorities and uncertainties surrounding the tobacco settlement may hurt the grant program's chances.
"How that money will be spent specifically is not definite," Jacob said. "It's almost impossible to predict what will happen."
At issue is how to spend an estimated $4.5 billion over 25 years and $319 million soon due Missouri under settlements with tobacco companies.
The grants would be part of Holden's efforts to modernize Missouri agriculture through new technologies and additional life sciences research.
Holden said his proposal would increase the number of high-tech jobs and increase demand for value-added agricultural products such as medicine and fuel, for example turning corn into ethanol.
"Missouri has the opportunity to be a leader in this field," Holden said. "We must seize this opportunity by investing in research at our public institutions."
"I believe investing part of the tobacco settlement in the life sciences is critical to ensuring Missouri's ability to compete in a new century and guarantee continued economic growth for all Missourians," Holden said.