State lawmakers are considering boosting a surcharge to obtain more money for spinal cord research, but some are calling the move a money grab because half the money raised would go to the state’s general fund for lawmakers to spend however they want.
“The original bill was set up so 100 percent of the funding would go directly to spinal cord research. At the last moment, at midnight, before the bill was passed, the general fund slipped in and got 50% of our funding,” said Mike Ferriter, who has been in a wheelchair since an accident at a construction site 32 years ago.
At issue is the Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund, which was created in 2004. The trust was supposed to be funded with a $50 surcharge paid by people getting their driver’s license reinstated after a suspension.
All the money raised by the surcharge was originally supposed to go to spinal cord injury research, but the Legislature diverted half the money to the state's general fund.
And now, in the dog days of summer, it appears, our lawmakers are at it again.
Lawmakers held a hearing today on Beacon Hill on a new bill that would increase funding for spinal cord research by doubling the surcharge to $100. But just like in 2004, there's a catch.
Under the proposed bill, more money will go to spinal cord research, but more money will also go to the general fund. The money will be split 50-50.
Dr. Eric Ruby, who came up with the original idea for the fund after his son was hit by a car and paralyzed, said he would like to see all of the money go to spinal cord research. He says splitting the money is all about politics.
“This is the way to do it. If the committee has more humanitarian motivation, if they listen to our speakers who are in wheelchairs who showed up…perhaps in their heart they can give up some of this money so that we can move forward,” Dr. Ruby said.
FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked state Rep. Steven Walsh, the House chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, “To get something like this passed, is that the way it works up here? Half has to go to the general fund?”
“I don't think it's the way it works,” Walsh replied. “I think the issue is that there is a finite pie, and there are a lot of very important programs. But this is one, and it's something that this committee will be looking at in short order,” Walsh said.
Rep. Walsh says the committee could decide to give more of the money to spinal cord research.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Marc Pacheco, told FOX Undercover he wouldn’t object to seeing the bill revised as it goes through the legislative process.
Originally, the surcharge was supposed to raise up to $5 million a year, but has raised far less than that since the Legislature diverted part of it to the general fund. Only $90,000 was raised last fiscal year, and now there’s about $330,000 in the fund, not enough to fund any serious spinal cord injury research.