Wednesday, March 08, 2006

CIRM: Remarkable But a State Budgetary Wisp

The budgets proposed by the governors of California in January are always a bit of wishful thinking. They are projections for proposed spending by the state of California for the fiscal year beginning in July. They are usually revised significantly in May.

Nonetheless, it is useful to consider how the state currently regards the California stem cell agency in terms of its budget. The governor's budget places CIRM in category 6445, under higher education, along with the University of California and the California State University system. The governor's budget states that spending by CIRM will run at about $309 million during the next fiscal year, which means that it assumes that court challenges to CIRM will fail. Keep in mind that the budget reflects figures provided by the agencies.

A month or so after the governor proposes his budget comes the legislative analyst's report, dissecting the spending plan agency by agency. In California, the legislative analyst is generally considered the most authoritative source on state fiscal matters.

So what does that legislative analyst think about the CIRM budget? It doesn't. The budget item, 6445, is not included in the analyst's report. Why is that, we asked the head of the higher education unit in legislative analyst office, Steve D. Boilard? Here is his response verbatim:

"It was intentionally omitted. In the short time we have to review the budget proposal, we just focus on major issues. The Gov's budget proposes to spend about $300 million in bond funds ($276 million of which would be provided for research grants) to carry out Prop 71. Of course, the fact the actual selling of bonds is tied up in the courts casts some doubt on whether this will in fact happen."

Boilard is correct. CIRM is not a major issue for the legislative analyst's office. But it goes beyond that. CIRM's budget is not subject to approval by the California legislature or the governor. Even the State Supreme Court must have its $42 million-a-year budget approved by the legislature. But CIRM does not, which, of course, makes it one of the most remarkable agencies in California history and one of the reasons we write about it in this blog.

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