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  1. Opinion

A strong case to expand Moffitt Cancer Center | Editorial

The cancer center is a global leader and a regional economic driver. It needs more space to accommodate more patients, researchers and technology.
An architect's rendering shows part of a planned research center and hospital on N McKinley Drive in Tampa for Moffitt Cancer Center. During the 2020 legislative session in Tallahassee, the center will seek an increased share of Florida's cigarette tax to finance the McKinley Drive project and other improvements. Moffitt officials said Thursday that the increase would finance $205 million, to be paired with $332 million they have already allocated for the project. [Moffitt Cancer Center]

Since opening its doors three decades ago, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa has been a lifesaver for patients around the globe and a remarkable asset for the region and Florida. Now the hospital wants a significant increase in state money to expand and update its hospital capacity and research horizons. It will be a tough sell amid the state’s competing needs and a softer economy, but it is a worthy project deserving serious consideration by the Florida Legislature and the full support of Tampa Bay’s legislative delegation.

Moffitt’s request reflects Florida’s unique dynamics and its own success in pioneering cancer treatment and research. Since Moffitt opened in 1986, the state’s population has doubled. Florida is second only to California in the number of cancer cases statewide. Moffitt’s clinical and research facilities are out of space, with some operating rooms too small to house advanced medical equipment. The hospital serves more than 68,000 patients, up 42 percent from 2009, and demand for outpatient care is expected to jump another one-third in the next six years.

Moffitt clearly serves a broad public need in a growing state and region where biomedicine plays an increasing role in the fabric of the economy. Moffitt wants lawmakers to increase its share of the state’s cigarette in two phases - to 7 percent in 2020 (from the current 4 percent) and then to 10 percent in 2023. The two increases would each provide an additional $11 million annually to the $15.5 million that Moffitt currently receives from the tax, with the first increase added to $332 million from Moffitt for a new clinical and research hospital in Tampa and the second increase devoted to a new research campus in Pasco County.

Moffitt has a compelling case. As one of the top 10 cancer hospitals in America, and the only National Cancer Institute-designated “comprehensive cancer center” in Florida, Moffitt has delivered on the ideal lawmakers envisioned more than three decades ago. Beyond nurturing a global brand for excellence, Moffitt has become a major engine for high-paying jobs and for growing the region’s biotech industry. Expansion to accommodate the newest technology, more patients and more researchers in north Tampa and Pasco makes economic sense.

The political reality is that more for Moffitt means less for other services that the cigarette tax helps finance, and the request comes as Florida lawmakers are looking to tighten their belts. A new forecast released by the state’s top economist Thursday warned that population growth - the state’s primary driver of economic growth - is slowing, and that continued slowing in the economy is expected through at least 2023. Escalating global trade tensions add to the uncertainty.

Still, this request is entirely in keeping with Moffitt’s mission, and it furthers a statewide interest in expanding care and cancer research critical to the Sunshine State. Tampa Bay lawmakers should be united in their support for a regional institution with such an accomplished global reach. On the short list of Florida’s priorities, Moffitt’s healthy future certainly ranks near the top.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.