New Jersey's health commissioner was drilled on cancer funding during an Assembly Budget Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Breast cancer ribbon (Photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd, ThinkStock)

Lawmakers had several questions for state Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd. The panel wanted to know why Gov. Chris Christie's budget proposal for next fiscal year lacks funding for cancer research. In addition, lawmakers also wanted to know why so little of the funds included in this fiscal year's budget for cancer research has actually been spent.

"One million dollars (for cancer research) put in by the Legislature, agreed upon by the governor and $6,500 in total was actually appropriated. I'm trying to understand a $1 million allocation and an expenditure of $6,500," said Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic).

The $1 million was supposed to provide funding through the New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research. O'Dowd explained that there is a two-year grant process and that $1.5 million in cancer research funding has been earmarked, but has not yet been distributed.

The battle over cancer research funding is nothing new in New Jersey.

For several years it has not been included in a budget plan. Last year, the money was added by the Legislature and approved by the governor. O'Dowd pledged there will be revenue for research.

"There's an ongoing revenue source from (specialty) license plates and the tax write-off for the research fund so we expect about $500,000," O'Dowd said. "There have been some years that this (cancer research funding) has been in the budget and some years that it hasn't and every year we continue the program according to the available funds."

The state receives $10 from the federal government for every dollar spent on cancer research. Schaer said New Jersey stands to gain economically and medically and that was why he does not understand the Christie Administration's reasoning behind eliminating the cancer commission's budget again.

"We are nowhere near winning the war on cancer. From a financial perspective, why are we acting as if the battle is over? The feet-dragging and lack of commitment is disconcerting, to say the least," Schaer said in an emailed press release.

According to a report released in 2012 by the American Cancer Society, more than 49,080 New Jerseyans were diagnosed with cancer and over 16,370 died in 2011.