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Alzheimer's center wins bid to be cut from state budget

TALLAHASSEE — In a year when many state-funded programs are being shortchanged because of a sour economy, the Johnnie Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Institute in Tampa stands to lose every dime of government money — and it's not complaining.

The reason: The institute is willing to trade state money for independence.

Lawmakers, desperate for every health-care dollar, have jumped at the opportunity.

Which means Tampa-area legislators would not get their wish to move control of the institute to the University of South Florida.

The proposed $65-billion state budget is not final, but Senate and House negotiators Tuesday agreed to give the center no money. Legislation to make the center part of USF has stalled.

House Speaker Marco Rubio "is interested in giving the center a chance as an independent center, so we want to give them that opportunity," said Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, who oversees spending for health programs. "At the same time, we think we can save money."

The center received $13.5-million from the state this year. Recent plans proposed cutting next year's pot to $3.5-million.

A spokeswoman for the institute said it wants to be affiliated with USF, but not under its control for budget reasons.

Giving up state money "was definitely a novel approach," said spokeswoman Melanie Meyer. "Nobody else was saying, 'Work with us and we won't beg for money.' "

The bill that would place the 5-year-old research center under USF control passed the Senate last week (SB 1080) but isn't moving in the House.

The center has embarked on notable research, including work that found those with Down's syndrome are likely to develop signs of Alzheimer's. USF wants a greater role in the institute. The center would likely bring the university tens of millions in research contracts. USF officials also say they can more efficiently operate the center.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at svansickler@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Alzheimer's center wins bid to be cut from state budget 04/22/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 6:16pm]
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