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A researcher at work at the University of São Paulo, one of four institutions whose financial reserves the state could have seized under a bill that has now been amended

REUTERS/Rahel Patrasso

São Paulo abandons plan to raid research institutions’ coffers

The academic community in Brazil’s São Paulo state is breathing a sigh of relief after the state government has amended a controversial bill that threatened to cripple scientific research. But another dramatic cut is already looming.

The bill, presented by the São Paulo government in August, authorized the state to seize the economic reserves of the three state universities and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), a state agency that funds fellowships and scientific projects. The move was part of a set of measures aimed at balancing São Paulo’s finances, which have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many prominent scientists and scientific organizations had spoken out against the bill, which the Brazilian Academy of Sciences said would “paralyze all scientific activities in the state of São Paulo.” As the country’s wealthiest state, São Paulo accounts for about 40% of Brazil’s scientific output.

Last week, the government gave in to the mounting pressure. On Thursday, São Paulo Governor João Doria met with the chancellors of the three state universities and the director of FAPESP to announce an agreement that will leave the four institutions out of the bill. “They realized that taking resources that can enhance the development of the state could help in the really short term but was a terrible idea in the medium and long terms,” says Paulo Artaxo, an environmental physicist at the University of São Paulo, University City.

The scientific community has hailed the news as a victory, but Artaxo and others point out that there’s a new threat for FAPESP. The agency is funded through an annual, fixed share of the state’s tax revenue; a new bill, presented by the government on 2 October, would enable the government to keep 30% (about $80 million) of that annual sum in 2021. The state legislature will debate and vote on the bill—which Artaxo calls unprecedented and a “crime against development”—over the next few weeks.