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Arizona Steps Away from Core of TBED Strategy

February 04, 2009

Facing a $1.6 billion budget deficit, Arizona legislators set their sights on the state's three-year old 21st Century Competitive Initiative Fund. A group of four Republican lawmakers led the effort to remove the program's $22.5 million from the 2009 state budget, which was signed by new Governor Jan Brewer last week. The fund was started under former Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano, who recently left office to join the Obama administration as secretary of Homeland Security. The Fund supported the efforts of Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz), a non-profit corporation that matched the state dollars with private funds to strengthen Arizona's biomedical research and industry. With the cuts, the future of the organization is uncertain.

When the initiative was announced in 2006, it was conceived as a way to leverage private funding to support bioscience education, research and commercialization. Three local groups, Greater Phoenix Leadership, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the Flagstaff 40, created the SFAz that year to help support bioscience and technology-based growth. Governor Napolitano provided an initial $35 million in funding for SFAz and committed to an additional $25 million a year for four years. The state requires a private match for this funding before the money can be released (see the November 27, 2006 issue of the Digest).

SFAz provides a number of awards, including funding for strategic research partnerships, graduate research fellowships, grants to help researchers win large federal grants, small business catalytic funding and STEM education grants to improve the quality of K-12 instruction.

Republican opponents of the initiative claimed that the state should not favor one industry over another through grants for a specific sector. Representative Sam Crump, who led the effort to eliminate SFAz funding, insisted that the effort should not remain in place while K-12 and higher education faced massive cuts. Republicans, however, were not unanimous in their opposition to the program. On Wednesday, the Arizona Republic reported that Rep. Crump had been removed from his new position as chairman of the Government Committee by House Speaker Kirk Adams due to Rep. Crump's opposition, to SFAz's.

Read more about Science Foundation Arizona at: http://www.sfaz.org/.