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H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center seeks state cigarette tax money to fund delayed expansion

TALLAHASSEE — Tampa Bay lawmakers are pushing to pledge more state money to a delayed $370 million expansion at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

Bills sponsored by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, and Rep. James W. Grant, R-Tampa, would increase the share of cigarette tax revenue that Moffitt gets each year starting in 2013 — from 1.47 percent to 5 percent.

The change would mean another estimated $10 million a year on top of the roughly $5 million Moffitt gets now, said Jamie Wilson, vice president of government relations at Moffitt.

Moffitt, a nationally known cancer treatment and research center, would use the pledge of future revenue to secure financing for construction of new research and clinic space at its 30-acre campus off Fowler Avenue in Tampa. That site is now home to only one building, which is occupied by Moffitt's for-profit subsidiary, M2Gen.

The three-year expansion would add 1 million square feet of building space and 1,200 high-wage jobs, not to mention thousands of construction jobs, officials say.

If the legislation passes, construction could break ground as soon as this year.

The center's namesake, a former House speaker, has been meeting with legislators.

"With this we'll be able to fill it up," H. Lee Moffitt said of the campus. "This is the next episode."

At a delegation meeting this week, Wilson told local legislators, "This is not just hiring one person to come down and they rent an apartment. This is moving great minds into Florida. We want to be a partner in helping you achieve your goals in creating jobs and opportunities and bring revenue to the state."

Until 2007-08, Moffitt got close to 5 percent of all cigarette tax revenue. But amid budget cuts, the Legislature reduced the center's share, putting Moffitt's expansion plans on ice the past three years.

Wilson calls the new legislation a "no-money-down deal" since Moffitt would not begin getting the larger chunk of cigarette taxes until 2013.

The year is no coincidence: That's when Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, would preside over his first session as speaker.

Weatherford has committed to making the Moffitt deal part of his budget.

"We throw out a lot of money for economic development projects to try to lure businesses here. Just like anything else, it's a lot more expensive to build a new university than expand an existing one," Weatherford said. "This is an opportunity for us to look into the future, take a leap of faith."

Moffitt is also asking Tampa Bay legislators for help with another item. In his proposed budget, Gov. Rick Scott wiped out $9 million the center gets for education, though about 300 medical students and 650 medical residents rotate through Moffitt each year.

"We educate more students in oncology and in cancer research than all other institutions in the state combined," Wilson said. "So we're very proud of that role."

Losing that state aid, he said, "would be completely devastating."

The House would keep Moffitt funded at the full amount under a draft budget released Wednesday by Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, chairwoman of the higher education budget subcommittee.

At the delegation meeting this week, Storms urged her Tampa Bay colleagues to lobby legislators from other areas on the issue.

"It just makes absolutely no sense from an economic development perspective why the state of Florida would not recognize the jewel that Moffitt is," she said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (850) 933-1321.

H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center seeks state cigarette tax money to fund delayed expansion 03/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 10:26pm]
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