TALLAHASSEE — A House plan headed for a floor vote would take $50 million from cancer research programs — including $10 million for H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute — and use it to help cover the state's Medicaid bill.
The $50 million comes from a portion of the $1 tax on a pack of cigarettes. Lawmakers justified adding that charge in 2009 in part by using it for cancer research programs.
But a committee bill led by Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, would repeal the law that funded programs at Moffitt, the James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program ($20 million) and the William G. Bankhead Jr. and David Coley Cancer Research Program ($20 million).
House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders said using the money for a purpose other than its original intentions justifies the public's disenchantment with government. He said he voted for the 2009 tax only because of the money for cancer research.
"I think this bill is a very good example of why the public should not trust the Florida Legislature," said Saunders, of Key West.
Hudson argued that he had to find money in a tight budget year and that it "is a relatively small piece of their budget."
Moffitt, which has an overall budget of $770 million, uses the $10 million for 115 jobs focused on personalized cancer treatment, from biostatisticians to researchers and nurses.
Tampa-area Republicans — Reps. Richard Corcoran, James Frishe, Ed Hooper, Greg Steube and Dana Young — have voted with their party colleagues on the measure. Young said the idea was simply to move the proposal forward and she expected she and her colleagues would fight for the Moffitt funding.
The Senate keeps all $50 million for the research programs.
"Remember, that's what those dollars are supposed to be used for," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
The Tampa research and treatment center also is trying to hold onto $10.9 million in funding for training medical students and residents. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed wiping out that money. A Senate proposal would cut it in half, and a House plan by about 12 percent.
Another bill with Tampa sponsors would increase the portion of another pot of cigarette tax revenue that Moffitt receives. The plan is to use that money — an extra $10 million on top of $5 million Moffitt now gets — to help finance construction of research and clinic space at a 30-acre campus off Fowler Avenue in Tampa.