Alzheimer's center worth funding right

Published April 30, 2007

Five-million Americans, including nearly a half-million Floridians, suffer from Alzheimer's. It is a progressive neurological disease that wears down the health and spirit of loved ones as it pulls its victims away - an ordeal society has a tremendous interest in preventing, if not curing. That's why it is staggering to see lawmakers play politics with Alzheimer's in the closing days of the legislative session. If the House can't get its priorities straight, the Senate should.

A House bill would put an end to the $15-million provided annually to the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Institute in Tampa after this year. The facility was created in 2002 with an eye toward becoming an internationally recognized research center. But lawmakers are still smarting over the way former House Speaker Johnnie B. Byrd Jr. of Plant City rammed this and other legislation through. They are wrong to settle scores by gunning for a facility named after the speaker's father.

The bill, pushed by Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean, who chairs the House's health care council, would cut annual funding for the Byrd Institute to $7-million beginning the 2008-2009 budget year. Beyond that, the institute would have to jump through bureaucratic hoops and compete with other providers to scavenge the money to pursue its mission.

Tackling a major health crisis, such as Alzheimer's or cancer, requires making sure that what money society commits to research is spent wisely to avoid waste, overhead and duplication. The Legislature is not buying widgets but investing in research that builds on itself every year. How can Byrd attract quality researchers and grants if the administration must live hand-to-mouth and play politics with a new crop of lawmakers every year?

Byrd's meddling at the institute has not helped expand its base of political support. Yet it would be irresponsible, not to mention hypocritical, to jerk the institute around to protest the speaker's abuse of power. Going year-to-year would undermine research, and the change is unnecessary. If the House can't see what's really at stake, the Senate needs to be the voice of reason.