Don't raid funds for cancer center


POSTED: Monday, February 23, 2009

IF state lawmakers swipe tobacco tax revenue to fill a budget deficit, they will be crushing years of work to establish a new cancer center valuable to Hawaii's economic future and the well-being of its people.

Taking the tobacco funds would also severely damage the chances of Hawaii retaining a National Cancer Institute designation necessary to draw grants and other money for research of better treatments and drugs for the devastating disease.

Short-sighted legislation to transfer $20 million allocated for a new center to make up for a projected $75 million budget gap has already received preliminary approval. It comes just as a strong coalition of island hospitals and the University of Hawaii are set to move ahead with the center.

While the deficit poses an immediate problem for legislators and the Lingle administration, they should resist the temptation to rob Peter to pay Paul. The cancer center is an investment that in the long run will provide higher-paying jobs and economic growth, drawing public and private funding for research.

Above all, it will provide residents with treatment and opportunities for clinic trials without the hardship of having to travel to the continent. The center also would draw patients from the Asia-Pacific region to the islands.

Hawaii's NCI designation, critical to recruiting top-level researchers and doctors, was set to lapse in June, but UH and center officials won an extension until next year. Without the new center, however, Hawaii could lose its standing and with it, the hopes for developing top-quality cancer treatment and fresh economic activity.