Friday, November 22, 2013

Parsimony and Stem Cells: California's Changing Cash Outlook

Last week it was California Gov. Jerry Brown's financial “reality sandwich.” This week it is Mac Taylor's prodigious fiscal feast.

Both men are key players in California's economic scenario and quite possibly the future of the California stem cell agency.

Taylor does not have the household name that the governor does. But he is the state's legislative analyst, the bipartisan and widely respected expert and adviser to the California Legislature on state spending and income.

Taylor's message this week came in sharp contrast to the picture of parsimony drawn last week by Jerry Brown when he warned UC Regents to lower their expectations about their request for $120 million more than he thinks they should have. The governor said there are many competing interests that have legitimate claims to state funding in addition to the University of California. It was language that could apply to the stem cell agency, which will run out of cash for new grants in 2017 and is hoping for more public support.

Brown's remarks covered really only the next 18 months. Taylor on the other hand covered that period and beyond, into 2020.

Gone are $100 billion in cumulative state deficits over the last four years. Instead, by 2018, the state could be running annual budget surpluses of $10 billion, according to an article by James Nash on Bloomberg News concerning the legislative analyst's report.

Taylor's analysis is not necessarily directly at odds with Brown's views. They were both discussing the budget but in different ways. Nevertheless, it comes as good news for the agency. More state cash means a greater likelihood that large amounts can be funneled into stem cell coffers.

Taylor's forecast was also widely celebrated by the many other petitioners who have seen their favorite programs suffer during the Great Recession.

Jerry Brown, however, was not sanguine about California's spending. According to David Siders of The Sacramento Bee, the governor is not budging from frugality and plans “to say no when necessary.” Siders quoted him as saying,
“We have deferred maintenance on our roads, that is serious, we have unfunded and growing liabilities in our pension and retiree health – state, university and local level. That’s real.”
Timing is everything for the stem cell agency. If it can catch the state on an upward financial bounce and show results that resonate with policy makers, good things could happen. But Taylor also noted that even a modest economic downturn could send the state once again into deficit spending. And, ironically, rising costs for health care, an issue of considerable concern to the stem cell agency, could be one of the competing interests that could squeeze out spending for stem cell research.

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