Inslee’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund veto saves jobs

Gov. Jay Inslee has wisely used his executive authority to veto a line item in the 2014 supplemental operating budget that would have completely defunded the Life Sciences Discovery Fund. That’s good news for the state’s 34,000 biotech workers whose jobs in some way depend on the program’s seed money.

It’s even better news for people who will benefit from future innovations in health care. The Life Sciences Discovery Fund finances the research and development that leads to new treatments for juvenile diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer and how rural communities can more effectively address mental health and substance abuse issues, among others.

The 2005 Legislature and then-Gov. Chris Gregoire established the fund using $350 million from the 1998 tobacco lawsuit settlement. The intent was to invest $35 million a year for 10 years, starting in 2008, to drive the state’s life sciences industry.

Only $80 million has been invested to date because state lawmakers keep moving tobacco settlement payments into other programs and the general fund. The LSDF invested less than half of the intended amount in 2010.

We don’t understand why this year’s Republican-controlled Senate wanted to kill the fund altogether. It’s generating roughly a sevenfold return on investment and creating thousands of new jobs.

In a letter to the Legislature signed by more than 40 biotech entrepreneurs, they say the fund has leveraged $450 million in outside investment into the state, and saved an additional $67 million in unnecessary health care costs.

It’s estimated the fund supports 34,000 direct biotech jobs in Washington, which grows to 92,000 when ripple effects are considered, and has created 3,000 new jobs. About 30 startup companies have benefited from the fund.

Washington’s booming life sciences industry has grown into the state’s fifth-largest business sector. Abruptly defunding the LSDF, and disrupting multiyear projects underway, could have threatened present and future jobs.

Senate Republicans committed to job growth and attracting clean businesses in burgeoning industries should rethink the state’s commitment to the Life Sciences Discovery Fund. Even reducing LSDF funding could cause big outside investors to question the state’s commitment to the innovation economy.

For now, Inslee has saved the Republican Senate majority from its own shortsightedness.