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Tag: Proposition 71

Stem Cell Research: Are California’s Priorities in the Right Place?

Written by on Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

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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California’s Stem Cell Priorities: Is the State Ahead of its Time or Was the Vote a Reactionary Political Decision?

Written by on Monday, August 13th, 2007

In his blog Secondhand Smoke, J. Wesley Smith makes an interesting argument that California’s stem cell priorities have been misplaced.  Wesley points to an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle as evidence for his argument.  The Chronicle article is a human  interest story on State Senator Carole Migden’s push for a state system to collect and store umbilical cord blood.

J. Wesley Smith writes as follows:

This story illustrates how politics has twisted the proper pursuit of regenerative medicine in California. During the last six years or so, the legislature went GA-GA over ESCR and human cloning. It passed a state law explicitly permitting human cloning research. And then, under a $35 million propaganda barrage, state voters agreed to an initiative (Proposition 71) that created a constitutional amendment to permit human cloning research and to fund SCNT and ESCR to the tune of $3 billion over ten years using borrowed money–meaning the actual cost will be about $7 billion. And all to pursue utterly unproven and ethically contentious approaches to regenerative medicine–and to supposedly “defy Bush,” even though Bush has done nothing to prevent state jurisdictions from funding whatever they want.

And yet, the legislature is only now getting around to creating an umbilical cord blood banking policy

Smith certainly makes a strong argument that California’s priorities have been misplaced.  The question for those of us in California: is he right?

Certainly, there is evidence that State taxpayers’ decision to fund stem cell research was a purely political one.  It is no secret that President Bush will not go down in the record books as the most adored President in this state.  One can absolutely make the argument that the decision to fund stem cell research was in part a reaction to the President’s repeated opposition for stem cell legislation, particularly since stem cell research is such a popular issue in this state.

Of course, a counter-argument could also be made that this State’s economy will be supported by the investment into stem cell research, since the investment will go largely toward hiring people to conduct the studies.  Many jobs will likely be created by the investment, which will trickle down to the economy at large.

However, one cannot help but wonder if the money couldn’t have been better spent elsewhere, even if you are a supporter of the biotech industry and of the concept of the research generally.  Our schools, health care, keeping drugs off the street, illegal immigration, crime, overcrowded prisons, and terrorism are just some of the many issues facing this state that could have also been better funded with the same money.  Did we as taxpayers make a good decision when we voted to use the funds instead on stem cell research?

It’s a thought-provoking question that all Californians should  consider.

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Category: Biotech Legislative Developments  |  Comments Off on California’s Stem Cell Priorities: Is the State Ahead of its Time or Was the Vote a Reactionary Political Decision?

California Stem Cell Agency Funds Controlled By Conflicts of Interest

Written by on Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

California Stem Cell Report provided more enlightening coverage today on how funds are being disbursed at the California Stem Cell Agency.

California Stem Cell Report reported as follows:

About ninety percent of the $209 million handed out so far by the California stem cell agency has gone to institutions that have “representatives” on the board that approves the funding. . . .

The group that approves the money is the 29-member Oversight Committee. Fourteen members of that committee have close links to the institutions that have received about $190 million in grants.

None of this is illegal but it illuminates the nature of the built-in conflicts of interest on the board. Prop. 71 created the situation. Nearly all the institutions in California that could be suitable recipients of stem cell research have some sort of representation on the decision-making board. The measure spelled out, for example, that five executive officers from University of California medical schools have seats on the board. It also stipulated that four executive officers from California research institutions sit on the Oversight Committee. . . .

Isn’t it comforting to know that millions of California’s taxpayer dollars have been entrusted to an entity, which is plagued by so many conflicts of interests?   Did voters unknowingly create just another bloated bureaucracy when they voted in favor of Proposition 71?  It is difficult not to think that this is exactly what has happened when you read these reports.

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