When an earmark fails

Dec 22, 2010

When the U.S. Senate omnibus spending bill was pulled last week, more than 6,700 earmarks from across the country failed to receive funding. Included in that package was $3.6 million for the University at Buffalo, to purchase a high-tech research tool called a cyclotron.

But now UB will have to plot a new course for a research initiative that officials were counting on.

In one of his last appearances as president of UB, John Simpson hailed the cyclotron funding as a game-changer in October.

“We’re here today to celebrate what I see as a vital step in UB fulfilling a commitment we have to build a strong life sciences economy in western New York,” Simpson said.

Funding for the cyclotron was treated as a sure bet. UB and Congressman Louise Slaughter held a press conference less than a week before Election Day to announce the money had been inserted in a spending bill. At the time, UB Vice President David Dunn said the money was all but guaranteed.

“It’s pretty unusual that something like this makes it this far and then all of a sudden falls off the wagon. So we’re quite confident mainly because Congresswoman is confident we can move this ahead,” Dunn said.

But when Republicans in the Senate said they would read the entire 1900-page bill on the floor, which would have taken days, Democratic leadership pulled it from consideration. In all, $34 million that was slated for western New York projects was left on the table.

“Earmarks have become somewhat of a dirty word in politics,” said Victoria Dillon, a spokeswoman for Congresswoman Slaughter. “I talked to [Slaughter] about it just yesterday. And she said, ‘You know, I’m angry about this.’ This is money that should be coming back to western New York,” Dillon said.

In a written statement, UB School of Medicine Dean Michael Cain says the school will not purchase the cyclotron as planned, and will need to find another source of funding before going shopping for one. Cain says this delay will prevent faculty from conducting key research on human diseases.  

This was not supposed to happen, according to Dillon.

“This was unusual this year. We thought this money was going to come through as well. We’re frustrated, we’re angry about it,” Dillon said.

More than 4,000 square feet has been set aside for the research in the new Global Vascular Institute that’s currently under construction at UB.

Nearly $30 million for other western New York organizations will not be funded as expected. That included projects at Roswell Park, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and Hauptman Woodward Medical Research Institute. In total, $8 billion in earmarks nationwide failed to receive funding.