Thursday, July 02, 2009

No IOUs for California stem cell researchers

The State of California began printing IOUs this afternoon to pay its bills because of a $26 billion budget crisis, but stem cell researchers funded by the state need not worry.

That's because the California stem cell agency is immune – for the time being – from fallout from the financial debacle.

The ballot measure, Prop. 71, that created CIRM gave the research effort special legal status. The governor and legislature cannot touch the agency's funding.

CIRM is not the only state agency that is isolated from all the effects of the budget mess. While most state employees are facing a nearly 5 percent pay cut from just last month on top of previous cuts, the the California Highway Patrol is likely to see a pay raise, according to Jon Ortiz of The Sacramento Bee.

Diana Lambert
, also of The Bee, reported that the budget pain has not yet “trickled up” to leaders of the University of California system. She reported salaries of $295,000 to $450,000 for UC chancellors along with generous benefits.

Lambert continued,
“The salaries and perks continue despite cuts to freshman enrollment next year, fee increases at some professional schools of as much as 50 percent and student fee hikes of nearly 17 percent over two years.”
At a troubled California regional transit agency, some “foreworkers” are pulling down six figure salaries, including overtime, that run as high as $218,621, according to Daniel Borenstein of the San Mateo Times.

The inequities illustrate the difficulties in dealing with the California cash crisis, which extends into local and regional entities as well as state government. The governor and lawmakers cannot by law reach into all fiscal corners of the state in their efforts to make semi-rational cuts.

One of the reasons for that is government by ballot initiatives, such as Prop. 71, which hamstring legislators – for good reasons and bad – when they try to deal with both policy and budget matters.

CIRM's operational budget is tight overall, probably tighter than many state agencies, although some might quarrel with its priorities, documentation and justification. And scientists certainly should not see their multi-year projects shelved and research basically lost because of state financial vagaries. Midstream loss of funding would throw away much of the original investment.

But that doesn't mean that ballot initiatives such as Prop. 71 represent good government or good policy. Indeed, Prop. 71 itself is one of CIRM's worst enemies as it hampers the board and creates conflicts of interests that are all but impossible to resolve. Sphere: Related Content


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