As the State of California sinks into a deep economic crisis, California’s Stem Cell Agency is so well-financed that it gave out $19 million dollars last month and is in the process of giving out another $66 million this month.
David Jensen of the California Stem Cell Report raises the timely question: are California’s priorities in the right place?
Clearly, California voters believed in the value of stem cell research when they voted for Proposition 71, and there is little doubt that stem cell research has the potential to be tremendously beneficial to the state’s biotech community, but did the voters really intend to fund stem cell research with state taxpayer money in lieu of everything else?
The problem with research, of course, is that it can take years to bear fruit. So, while investing in stem cell research today can easily be viewed as an investment in the future, that future may be years down the road. Meanwhile, the state is out of money and that reality is having an immediate effect today across the board on a variety of programs as well as the overall operation of the state. While California can certainly raise taxes, in this economy where so many residents are losing their jobs and their homes, raising taxes is probably not going to fix the states’s economic problems.
Jensen addresses the situation as follows:
No one – except for those congenitally opposed to hESC work — is contending that all these millions are going to unworthy scientists or to dubious research. But the CIRM giveaways stand in marked contrast to what is happening to the rest of the state in the light of its $40 billion budget crisis. . . .
The disparity raises major public policy issues about the use of ballot initiatives to promote and protect various causes. Should the elderly and poor see their much-needed assistance and medical care cut while cash flows unimpeded, in this case, to researchers, some of whom are already exceedingly well funded?
In my opinion, Jensen’s point is well-taken. As a transplant from the South–not Southern California, but the "real" South–I have always been uncomfortable with California’s ballot initiatives for the simple reason that I always felt like I was missing some critical information to making a decision: the budget. I have run my law firm now for five years, and I can assure you that while I made some mistakes early on, I quickly learned that a business owner cannot make any spending decision without carefully reviewing the budget that will finance such spending. I serve on a nonprofit board of directors, and the same is true in making spending decisions for that organization.
Yet, as a California voter, I am somehow expected to make a decision on a ballot initiative without being able to see the overall financial picture of the state.
Does this really make sense?
In the case at hand, I doubt that the current funding imbalance is going to turn Californians against stem cell research. By and large, I think people support the research and recognize its potential. On the other hand, it should make us all stop and think about our state’s priorities in this economic crisis. Are they invested in the right place?
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