Editorials, Opinion

Justice’s nonsense veto of research funds for RNI

Gov. Jim Justice often says and does nonsensical things. But his veto of research dollars for WVU’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute reaches a whole new level of ludicrousness.

HB 5014 would have given $2 million to RNI to support ongoing ultrasound research, specifically to treat eating disorders and post-traumatic stress. It also included another $4 million for supporting hospital grants and research programs.

RNI has already made incredible strides in expanding the medical uses for ultrasound technology. Under Dr. Ali Rezai, ultrasound has been used to treat tremors, to help Alzheimer’s medications cross the blood-brain barrier for more effective treatment and to help combat addiction by “resetting” the reward center of the brain. Not only are these amazing breakthroughs in treating each of these conditions, but they are also changing the way we think about treating any ailments that start in brain.

Instead of cutting open a skull and poking around someone’s brain — which always has the potential to go wrong — Rezai and researchers at RNI are finding they can achieve similar or better results by targeting specific areas of the brain with concentrated ultrasound, which is a non-invasive procedure. They are revolutionizing the way we treat brain disorders and making it safer for patients.

The successful results from previous ultrasound research should make RNI a rock-solid investment — a sure bet, if you will. (Encova Foundation certainly thought so. It just gave RNI a $2 million grant for its ultrasound and addiction study.) A bipartisan majority of legislators certainly thought so, and that’s virtually unheard of.

Justice’s excuse: “The language of the bill is ambiguous as to the Legislature’s intent and just what types of research may be funded from this appropriation, no context or background has been provided to date to my office regarding this appropriation.”

We can understand if he was a little confused by the $4 million for hospital grants, but the $2 million was clearly earmarked to WVU Health System for an FDA pilot program.

If Justice and his people had paid attention to what was happening over at the hospital, then they would have known Rezai spoke to the House Finance Committee about the funding on Jan. 29. Or Justice could have watched the recent “60 Minutes” feature detailing all of Rezai and RNI’s success with ultrasound treatments for a variety of illnesses.

Justice also had the audacity to say, “I believe it is imperative that we take a prudent approach and address important outstanding questions regarding the state’s budget for the next fiscal year before making discretionary supplementary appropriations such as this.”

This, coming from the man who championed tax cuts that slashed our state’s tax revenue and whose office sat on the information the state might have to return $465 million in federal funds because it didn’t spend enough on education. Which, mind you, is the reason the state’s budget is currently a mess.

The amount requested in HB 5014 — $2 million for RNI, $4 million for other grants — is barely a drop in the bucket compared to the state’s total budget. The work at RNI is groundbreaking and puts West Virginia at the cutting edge of medical technology — which could open opportunities for the whole state. The return on investment could be astronomical.

All of which makes Justice’s veto of HB 5014 one of the most nonsensical things he’s done.