The Short Term Future of Stem Cell Funding

 California Stem Cell Report appropriately opines

As California’s public universities are turning away students and state cash is being cut for projects ranging from research labs to affordable housing, the California stem cell agency is on track to give away $66 million later this month.

The awards will come following CIRM‘s handout of more than $19 million last month.

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.

If CIRM were, say, part of the state Department of Health, chances are good that it would not be able to spend taxpayer money so freely.

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?

A ballot initiative, Prop. 71, is just what created the $3 billion stem cell effort in 2004 – not carefully crafted legislation hammered out over months with all parties having their say in public. The measure was drafted in secret by CIRM Chairman Robert Klein (with the help of a couple of others he rarely acknowledges) and placed on the ballot with a signature-gathering effort that probably cost $1 to $2 million. (That is the most common way of placing an initiative on the ballot in California – hiring firms that specialize in such efforts and paying them on a per signature basis.)

It’s an especially timely thought given that President Obama made this oblique statement in his Inaugural Address:

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.

 … leaving both Ted Olsen and me wondering if he’s about to upend Bush on federal funding for Human Embryonic Stem Cell research  … when there ain’t no money for nothin’.  But then, there’s still Dickey-Wicker to contend with.