Norris Tolson, a long-time and successful politician himself, knows very well how the budget poker game is played at the North Carolina General Assembly. So he’s not panicked by the threat of big budget cuts. And he does have an ace up his sleeve to deal – at least temporarily – with a bad hand.

Unlike the North Carolina Biofuels Center, which faces a complete loss of budget and has begun to wind down operations, the N.C. Biotech Center is operating as usual, the Center’s CEO tells WRALTechWire.

“At this point budget negotiations are continuing in the House and Senate,” he said. “We know how these things go, and we are optimistic that we’ll receive strong funding in the end.”

Gov. Pat McCrory wracked the Biotech Center and the state’s biotech industry when he proposed to cut the Center’s funding by a whopping 60 percent from just north of $17 million.

Then came a 50 percent cut proposed by the Senate.

The House proved to be a euchre partner for the Center, providing a possible trump card in the budget talks: A 50 percent cut in annual funding but matching that cut with a one-time appropriation.

Would such a deal appease the cutters? 

Overall budget talks continue in Raleigh with a 30-day temporary measure providing funding, albeit at a slightly lower level that a year ago.

Tolson says the Center, which is really the fulcrum for the state’s powerful biotech and life science cluster (third largest in the country), is OK for now. He holds out hope that political allies downtown will save the day.

“The General Assembly understands the importance of the Biotech Center, as the state’s driver for one of the few sectors creating meaningful jobs for North Carolina,” Tolson said. “But we, like everyone else, await the final outcome from these budget deliberations.”

Biotech in the state generates a $59 billion economy and 237,000 direct as well as related jobs, according to the Center.

However, Tolson isn’t assuming the Center’s budget will escape unscathed.

“Like any good business, we’ve talked internally about approaches that we might take at various funding levels,” he explained. “So we have ideas on what we’d have to do without, but we’re not going to speculate on any budget outcome at this point.”

So far, jobs and programs are safe.

“We have not proceeded with any program cuts,” Tolson said. “We maintain a small reserve that allows us to operate in advance of receipts from the General Assembly, such as the situation generated by the continuing resolution passed last week.”

Should the budget cutters prevail, however, Tolson said the Center will have no choice but make a lot of changes.

“We’ll obviously keep our eyes on the discussions in Raleigh as they unfold,” he said, “and act accordingly when the new budget is finally approved.”

In the meantime, one can rest assured that Tolson and Center backers are lobbying at a furious pace, playing whatever cards they can, hoping to trump those who have to this point had a stronger hand.