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COL Action, not words

Legislators must leap chasm for bioscience bonding

For Rochester the importance of state support for the Mayo Clinic–University; of Minnesota bioscience collaboration cannot be overstated. As such, the failure of the Legislature to pass a bonding bill was equally significant.

Since the end of the session, there has been a hope that somehow a special legislative session would resurrect a bonding bill and support for the Mayo–U; of M partnership. It hasn't happened, of course, and now likely won't.

The significance of the partnership and the legislative failure is best measured in economic terms. An economic impact study presented to lawmakers conservatively projected that by 2010 the partnership could spin off $88.8 million in economic activity. An optimistic analysis of the same data indicated a $769.2 million impact.

All of the economic possibilities could have been had from a $20 million jump start in a bonding bill that would have covered construction costs for the Mayo-U of M home facility on the Mayo Rochester campus.

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The construction money was expected to pave the way for an operating funds contribution. Gov. Tim Pawlenty's own bioscience council recommended that the state provide $70 million to be directed toward scientific work.

Pawlenty was solidly behind the partnership, and his staff had developed what seemed to be a rock-solid argument for state support. What could go wrong?

Everything went wrong. A chasm was opened between Republicans and the DFL when Senate Republicans blocked the Senate bonding bill. When the tension called for a mediator, Pawlenty was given to making snide remarks toward state DFL leaders. The breakdown was complete when the DFL refused reasonable Republican offers of contrition to get the bonding process back on track.

Hope dies hard. Even as late as mid-August, Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, hinted that a special session remained a possibility. Yet, it was all empty words.

While words might come cheap to lawmakers, it's not the same for everybody. Mayo Clinic administrators at the highest levels have said the clinic is committed to bioscience research, and if Minnesota isn't willing to help, the clinic might focus its attention elsewhere.

Adding to this, IBM has developed a powerful new super computer for use, in part, to provide access for research to stored Mayo Clinic patient records. The ties between IBM and Mayo bioscience research are solid. IBM said it would provide support to Mayo Clinic work wherever Mayo establishes its program. In other words, if Mayo shifts its bioscience program out of Rochester and Minnesota, IBM support will follow. The impact of such an outcome on Rochester would be devastating.

Every person in Rochester should be outraged at what has happened. The casual disregard that lawmakers have shown to the Mayo Clinic and Rochester is appalling.

Apologies are in order, but what's needed is action. Rochester lawmakers, all Republicans, must demand from party leaders a plan of action to fix this disaster. Then they need to publicly commit to making it happen.

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