FRANKFORT — The University of Kentucky wants state lawmakers to approve $10 million a year in bonding authority for 20 years to build a facility for research of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said during a floor speech Friday that he is asking his fellow lawmakers to decide whether they want to consider "opening up" the state budget during this year's session to deal with UK's request.
The Senate leader did not know the exact cost of the project but estimated it to be in the $130 million to $150 million range.
Approval of funding for the center, which would sit along South Limestone near the College of Pharmacy, would require 60 percent of the vote in both legislative chambers in this year's "short" or 30-day legislative session. The state budget usually is considered in the 60-day sessions in even-numbered years. Opening the state's two-year budget this year would likely lead to possible other budget debates and requests.
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Stivers told reporters that UK considered the research center its top priority last year and that UK President Eli Capilouto has talked to him and Gov. Steve Beshear about the "multidisciplinary medical research center."
A spokesman for House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Stumbo has not yet talked to Capilouto about the building project.
Beshear said he has had preliminary discussions with Capilouto and will discuss the project with legislators, "mindful that we must be especially careful to weigh the impacts of any new project against the delicate balance of the established current budget."
"Regardless, a medical research facility that would attract world-class researchers to target rapid improvements in Kentucky's collective health is a project worthy of our consideration," he said.
In September, Capilouto pledged $250,000 of his own money to jump start a fundraising effort for the building. The university is seeking a mix of state funds and private donations.
"Such a facility — dedicated with fervor and focus on the seemingly intractable scourges confronting Kentucky — can change our state for the next 100 years," Capilouto said at the time.
Capilouto emphasized that the building will not just be laboratories but space that can attract people from many fields who can put their minds to solving Kentucky's health woes.
Stivers told his colleagues that if a political candidate wanted to get votes in his home county of Clay, the candidate should visit UK's Markey Cancer Center, where many of his constituents spend much of their time.
The Senate leader said he would "not whine or cry" if lawmakers decide not to open up the state budget this year, but he said he thought this project was important.
UK spokesman Jay Blanton said the university is "deeply gratified" by Stivers' support.
"We know he has personal experience, through his family and so many of his constituents, for how devastating cancer and other diseases are to his region and our state," Blanton said.
He said Capilouto and the board of trustees feel very strongly that UK can play a leading role in reducing the rate of preventable deaths in Kentucky from cancer.
"As President Capilouto said recently, 'It's time to make death a beggar in Kentucky,'" he said. "Research of the kind done only at UK is a key component of any strategy to achieve that."