The University of Arizona formally opens its Phoenix medical school today amid the specter that funds to expand it may not be forthcoming.
Ceremonies featuring the governor and state, local and university officials will inaugurate the campus at the Phoenix Bioscience Center. It will join the Translational Genomics Research Institute and Arizona State University’s Department of Biomedical Informatics.
UA officials hope the new site eventually will house 600 medical students and 400 pharmacy students — more than are now being trained at the main campus in Tucson.
But all that could depend on state lawmakers allocating more than the $7 million a year they have agreed to provide.
Rep. Russell Pearce, RMesa, told Capitol Media Services that lawmakers made it very clear to members of the Board of Regents that they could count on only the $7 million annual appropriation — $6 million for UA and $1 million for ASU.
Pearce said that Jaime Molera, a lobbyist for the regents, promised that the agency that runs the three state universities would not be back for more.
“We told them the answer would be ‘no,’ ‘’ said Pearce, who leads one of the House Appropriations committees.
Yet the regents just last month agreed to let UA seek to double its funding for the Phoenix campus for the new school year beginning in July when plans are to enroll the first 24 students.
“When do you hold people accountable for keeping their word?’’ he asked.
Molera said Pearce is mistaken about any such promise. “We were very clear on what we were asking for,’’ he said.
He acknowledged that there is no absolute commitment for additional legislative cash. But Molera said lawmakers were given a schedule of what it would take to eventually bring in 150 new students a year.
One estimate put the need for funding at $45 million a year.
Dr. Keith Joiner, dean of the UA College of Medicine, remained optimistic that lawmakers will provide the necessary dollars to eventually allow 150 new students each year.
“Once this is a reality, which it really is right now, any implications that support won’t continue will just disappear,’’ he said.
While Pearce is objecting, other legislators are more open to the idea of additional funding.
Sen. Bob Burns, RGlendale, who leads the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he would support more dollars if it can be shown there is a need and the cash is being spent wisely.
The Phoenix campus, when fully operational, will graduate 150 physicians each year; by contrast, the Tucson campus graduates only 110 doctors a year.