North Carolina taxpayers have made an enormous commitment to the war against cancer. Now they must guard against the politicians who inevitably propose other ways to spend these resources.
A few years ago, taxpayers put tens of millions toward a new, 320,000-square-foot cancer hospital in Chapel Hill. This year, they will begin providing the funds to operate that facility.
Provisions in the 2007-09 state budget that Gov. Mike Easley signed last week provide for $25 million in state funds for the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Care Center. Next year that amount rises to $40 million, and then to $50 million the following year.
The money will be used for a number of purposes, but primarily for research into fighting the many forms of cancer and to applying the findings to the care and treatment of North Carolinians. The money is likely to draw matching federal and private grants.
The Lineberger center is well positioned to do enormous good. In the National Cancer Institute's ranking of cancer-research facilities, it is already considered one of the 15 best in the country. Lineberger officials predict that these funds will vault the center into the top five, rubbing elbows with the likes of the Johns Hopkins University center in Maryland and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Furthermore, they say that Lineberger will challenge both UCLA and the University of Michigan for bragging rights to being the best public cancer hospital in the country.
This effort is about more than bragging rights, of course. It is about saving lives that cannot now be saved and making cancer treatment less invasive for the thousands of patients who receive care every year. Cancer afflicts one-third of all North Carolinians, with 41,000 new cases occurring every year. It kills 17,000 people here, and 560,000 across the country, every year, and it will soon supplant heart disease as the No. 1 killer of Americans.
Despite the enormity of this problem, there are no assurances that the money committed to the Lineberger effort this year will continue in the future. No legislature can commit to spending beyond two years. While it seems unlikely that future legislative leaders would raid the cancer center's funding, trust funds of this nature are typically raided.
Legislators set up the Tobacco Trust Fund, the Clean Water Trust Fund and the Highway Trust Fund to set aside resources for specific tasks. All three are under constant attack from legislators who have new ideas of how they can spend the money. No doubt, someone will find new possibilities for the cancer trust fund, too.
It will be a job for all North Carolinians to say no to any such raid. This effort is much too important.