Tuesday morning's Globe carries a front page item, with the headline above the fold, outlining the wayward course which Governor Patrick's biotech initiative has taken. Originally outlined as a broad sweep to nurture biotech growth in the Commonwealth with an emphasis on academia, the project has morphed in the Legislature into a set of earmarks.
None of the earmarks are completely devoid of biotech relevance, but they certainly aren't going for broad strokes. $13M for an interchange (near where I live) to relieve commuter congestion around a big Wyeth biopharmaceutical production facility & $13M for a water treatment plant in Framingham which Genzyme needs to support an expanded production plant there. Both will help retain existing biotech facilities which are important employers, but neither of these is likely to drive any growth outside the specific plant targeted (should the Wyeth environs sprout a plethora of omics companies, I will happily figure out a way to eat crow during my exponentially shortened commute!).
Other funds are targeting state university favorites of legislators. U Mass was always going to get a new stem cell repository (which it was pointed out originally was a clever hand to Harvard, which wouldn't mind getting a graceful exit from that business), but the tab is now up to $195M. Nearly $50M will go to build a life science center at a Western Mass school not known for life sciences education; indeed, it doesn't even have a graduate program in the field -- but does have a powerful pol as an alumnus.
University professors & at least one biotech CEO (Genzyme's) are already crying foul, but this is unlikely to have much effect. Massachusetts is effectively a one party state with little involuntary turnover in the Legislature (or the U.S. Congress seats come to think of it). The pols already have retreated to "It's the public money & we have the perogative to spend it!" -- true, but not exactly a justification for how they're spending it.
Who is to blame for the mess? Governor Patrick need look no farther than his mirror. First he made insane estimates of the job creation it would drive -- something in excess of 4X the current employment in the entire existing life sciences sector. Then he burned all his political capital trying to get casino gambling legalized in the state, and then at the moment of the key vote was off to New York signing a book deal rather than corraling a few last votes. With no real leverage, he's at the mercy of the Legislature. The quote in the article suggests that he's ready to sign whatever comes his way, a hollow victory preferable to an honorable defeat.
One thing Patrick clearly underestimated, perhaps because he really is even newer to the state than I am (not quite to the 2 decade mark) is that there is an enormous geographical divide (not that I anticipated it when I initially reacted to it just over a year ago either!). The conditions that favor biotech tend to be in Boston, Cambridge and some surrounding areas -- with Worcester (about 1 hour away) the one other large outpost. Everyone feels that anyone closer to Boston is getting a better deal than they are. So a biotech bill likely to favor the apparently favored was going to have a hard time without a bit of bacon fat to grease the skids -- but once you wave some pancetta before the pols, it's hard to get them to stop.