A money grab by state lawmakers that siphoned off dollars promised for spinal cord injury research would be beat back if wheelchair-bound lobbyists have their way on Beacon Hill.
Paralyzed residents made their case at a recent State House event in support of proposed legislation that could double the amount of money going to spinal cord research – the amount actually promised when a special fund for the cause was set up in 2004.
Money in the Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund comes from a $50 surcharge paid for by people reinstating their driver’s license after suspension. When the fund was originally planned, all of the surcharge was supposed to go to the fund. But in the 11th hour before the bill was approved, the Legislature diverted half the money to the state’s general fund.
FOX Undercover, which first exposed the diverted dollars in 2007, was on hand recently when advocates rallied at the State House to increase funding. Among those in the audience was former Boston University hockey player Travis Roy, who was paralyzed after crashing head-first into the boards just 11 seconds into his first game.
“We are fortunate for the state to pass a Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund bill, which is fantastic, but then they kind of slip in the back that only half the money would go to the fund and the other half goes into the fund to help pay for everything else,” Roy said.
Roy said he was “disappointed” about the diversion but said, “I'm hopeful this year we can finally get it done.”
A bill pending before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing would double the amount of money going to spinal cord research, but there’s still a catch: half the money would go to the general fund for lawmakers to spend as they please. The bill would double the surcharge to $100, leaving $50 for research as opposed to $25.
The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, says he's not against giving all the money to spinal cord injury research, but points out that as written, the bill is a fair deal because the general fund helps pay for other important state services, including those that go toward preventing spinal cord injuries.
“Doubling the amount of money that goes to anything today is a significant improvement within the legislative process, so this legislation would double the amount of money that would go to the trust fund and it would also double the amount of money that goes to underwriting the cost of public health, transportation, etc.,” Pacheco said.
State Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, the Senate chairman of the committee, released a statement that didn’t commit to a particular solution but called adequate funding for the Spinal Cord Trust Fund is “incredibly important.”
“While certainly worthy of consideration, the Committee must undergo its due diligence to ensure that this solution is indeed the most appropriate and suitable for the Commonwealth,” Moore said.