Investing in jobs, health

Nothing rattles government skeptics more than untethering a funding source from its intended goal. Think fuzzy math, a breach of faith, and creative accounting bunched into one cynical political ball.

Social Security was the federal analogue two decades ago. South Carolina’s Fritz Hollings described it as the “Social Security cookie jar.”

In Washington, the mission creep on tobacco-settlement funds is the most galling of the various shell games (A “tobacco cookie jar” sounds as repellant as over-here-instead budgeting.)

In 2005, the Legislature established the Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF) to spur economic growth in Washington, to invest in research and development, and to improve health and health care. Even during the Great Recession, the LSDF has been a template of farsightedness with an impressive return on investment. This includes more than 3,000 anticipated direct and indirect jobs over the next three years along with dozens of commercialization and project grants that have elevated the life-sciences sector.

The original plan was to underwrite the LSDF with the tobacco settlement’s strategic contribution or bonus payments over 10 years. Were it only so. After 2009, funding was slashed (or, more accurately, diverted to the general fund) despite the LSDF meeting its legislative charge. One liability is the incubation period for research and marketing new health care technologies. Often program grants take more than an election cycle to bear results, cooling political bragging rights. That’s no longer an excuse, with the fund burnishing a record that should resonate with Republicans and Democrats.

Competition animates the process of identifying future economic and health-related returns. Using an investor’s eye and a catalytic strategy, the LSDF Board of Trustees weighs major new initiatives with commercial potential. Opportunity grants that leverage other funders are also part of its portfolio.

A key takeaway is, despite policy jargon such as “clinical translation” and “invention disclosures,” the LSDF is centered on health entrepreneurship and research that will benefit current and future generations. That was its very worthy goal when it was seeded with tobacco funds.

Snohomish County is a LSDF beneficiary, including Bothell’s EKOS Corporation, which is developing a promising device to treat stroke victims. CERTAIN, a network of health care providers like Everett Providence and Swedish in Edmonds, has boosted patient care with a surgical check list. The list goes on.

State lawmakers could begin to correct the sin of deflected funds and restore public faith. A $30 million biennial request would be a 45 percent reduction in funding (compared to the current 85 percent cut). The Life Sciences Discovery Fund is worth the investment.