State budget crisis hits science research - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

State budget crisis hits science research

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Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2009 3:00 pm | Updated: 1:45 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The state's budget crisis is putting pressure on Science Foundation Arizona to find other sources of funding for its research programs.

State budget cuts approved in late January removed $22.5million from the state's 21st Century Fund, which supplies a portion of the foundation's budget.

That fund pays for half of the foundation's research efforts, with the other half coming from private sources. Private sources also fund all of the foundation's operations budget.

SFAz Chief Executive Bill Harris said he hopes at least some state funding can be restored in the current fiscal year, saying university-industry research projects fostered by the foundation are important for the future of Arizona's economy.

"It's in the best interest of the state and people of Arizona to retain these partnerships," he said. "It creates a catalyst to grow the economic pie."

Examples of research partnerships the foundation has nurtured are Freeport McMoRan and the University of Arizona developing advanced underground mining techniques and a proposed effort between Boeing and Arizona State University to develop aviation biofuels, he said.

A study released this week by Battelle, a nonprofit research and development organization, found that SFAz is doing its job effectively.

The report said the foundation attracts an additional $1.18 in grants from industry, the federal government and other groups for each $1 that it invests in research projects from its state and private sources.

But the report also found that Arizona is falling behind other states in the competitiveness of its technology industries.

Specifically, it said Arizona is lagging other states in educating prospective scientists and attracting research funding.

Harris said the future existence of SFAz isn't threatened because private-sector businesses are committed to continuing to support it. But without state funds, its research programs will have to be cut back, he said.

But Steve Voeller, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, said it's hard to justify spending tax dollars on the SFAz when the state is in an economic downdraft.

"Given the budget we face, the Science Foundation was sure to be one that would have its funds cut," he said.

It's hard to justify even in good economic times because research funding is available from many other sources, he said.

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