Prop 71 mastermind proposes another ballot measure

Posted by Jesse Reynolds July 13, 2010
Biopolitical Times
A trial balloon of hot air

Sunday's San Francisco Examiner features a relatively long cover story describing how the California stem cell agency's budget keeps growing while the rest of state government faces severe cuts. Yet the primary force behind the endeavor asserts that the state should allocate even more to fund more research and extend the life of the agency.

Because Proposition 71, the 2004 voter initiative that created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), deferred payments on its bonds for five years, the bills are just now coming due. Robert Klein, chairman of the agency's governing board and of the Proposition 71 campaign, unsurprisingly defends its continued funding.

But Klein’s arguments ring hollow. First, he cites an economic study that concludes the program has generated significant tax revenue. But that study's conclusions were controversial, and in any case $100 million is far less than the billion dollars the CIRM has already spent. The program is certainly not paying for itself, as he suggests now and as he claimed before the vote on Proposition 71.

Second, Klein cites reduced health care costs. He goes so far as to say, "First of all, we’re saving lives." While I sincerely hope that embryonic stem cell research leads to therapies, that is not yet the case. Clinical trials are yet to begin. (Maybe next year? (1, 2)) Until there are genuine therapies, such savings remain hypothetical.

Nevertheless, Klein floats a trial balloon: He says that the remaining $2 billion authorized by Prop. 71 will likely last the agency for another seven years. After that, he says,

I think that a strong case will be made to the voters, based on the therapies that are then in human trials, to then approve more funding, to keep California at the leading edge of research that will reduce human suffering through the use of regenerative medicine.

Such a proposal would fail.

Klein carefully crafted Prop. 71 to shield CIRM from both the state's finances (currently in a historically dismal condition), and from normal oversight procedures, which would force the CIRM budget into line with the rest of California's. But instead of the promised cures of the Proposition 71 campaign, reality-based voters see dramatic cuts in the state's essential services, liberalized federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, and a potential alternative in cellular reprogramming.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: