Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Limos, Red Flags and Perception

The California stem cell agency is excising the word "limousine" from its new travel and expenses policy after one director warned that it was a "red flag."

The action came at a meeting Monday of the Governance Subcommittee of the directors of the $3 billion research effort.

The subcommittee was reviewing a new travel policy aimed at dealing with some of the concerns of the California state auditor, who last year questioned lunches that cost $36, dinners that cost $65, pricey air travel and chauffeured limos, which the auditor said that CIRM preferred to describe as "large-sized vehicles" with hired drivers.

As prepared for the Governance Subcommittee, the new policy, which applies to directors, staff, out-of-state members of CIRM working groups and job candidates, permitted the use of limousines from airports and railroad stations.

Sherry Lansing
(see photo), former head of a Hollywood film studio and chair of the Governance Subcommittee, said, "Limousines should be used only in extreme conditions because you can almost always get a cab." Claire Pomeroy, another member of the subcommittee and dean of the UC Davis medical school, said that the use of large rented cars with drivers "raises lots of red flags."

James Harrison
, outside counsel to CIRM, said the policy would be revised to remove the word limousine when it comes before the full Oversight Committee next week. However, it appears that use of rental cars with drivers will be permitted under some circumstances. Robert Klein, CIRM chairman, suggested that "sedan service" be permitted when there is a necessity for speed or bad weather conditions exist.

Some subcommittee members noted that sedan service can be less expensive than cabs in some situations.

Lansing and Pomeroy are correct, however. The use of limousines at taxpayer expense is not something that sits well with the general public. Especially when the governor has just announced he will propose a budget that will hurt many groups, including AIDS patients, the poor and the elderly and slap a tax on renters, homeowners and business owners who buy property insurance.

No matter that the amounts for rental of "sedans" are relatively trivial. No matter that the money would not make even a dimple in the state budget crunch, even if the governor could lay his hands on the money, which he can't, thanks to Prop. 71. It's all about symbolism and perception and maintaining CIRM's reputation. Sphere: Related Content

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