Monday, February 18, 2008

CIRM Proposes 50 Percent Pay Range Hikes; Watchdog Says They are Unjustified

The California stem cell agency is set to boost the maximum salary ranges of its top executives by 50 percent, a move that one watchdog group says flies in the face of California's budget crisis.

Under the proposal to be considered Wednesday by a subcommittee of the CIRM board of directors, the top salary range for the president would skyrocket more than $200,000 -- from $412,500 to $618,750. The salary range would also apply in the case of the chairman of the agency, Robert Klein, a multimillionaire real estate investment banker. However, Klein has declined to accept a salary.

Other proposed salary increases would see the top of the range climb from $270,000 to $405,000 for vice chairman, chief scientific officer and chief operating officer, a new position that is currently unfilled. The top of the salary range for general counsel and intellectual property attorney (another new, unfilled position) would jump from $225,000 to $337,500.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said the increases "are unjustified in the face of a state budget crisis."

In a statement prepared for release Tuesday, John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the group, said CIRM was "tone-deaf" in proposing the pay hikes. He said,
"CIRM doesn’t operate with some financier’s private stash of cash. CIRM is a state agency funded by taxpayer dollars. It needs to act like one.”
Simpson also said that CIRM's general counsel already received a 41 percent pay increase in December after only 10 months on the job, boosting her salary from $160,000 to $225,000.

The CIRM document proposing the other executive salary range increases did not offer a rationale nor did an accompanying salary survey paid for by CIRM. We asked Ellen Rose, spokeswoman for CIRM, what the justification was for the increase, She said,
"We are re-aligning the maximum of the ranges to be slightly above the 75th percentile data Mercer provided to be consistent with our Compensation Philosophy."
No further rationale was provided by CIRM for the top pay increases, which amount to more than an average of 16 percent a year since 2005 when the first salary schedule was approved by CIRM directors. At that time, CIRM salaries generated considerable heat because of what critics called their extravagance.

CIRM is a tiny agency with only 26 employees, although it hands out grant money at a rate exceeding $20,000 an hour. It is limited by law to only 50 employees. Its operating budget this year is running about $8 million, about $5.5 million of which is salaries.

The proposed pay raises would have no impact on the state budget. CIRM operates outside of the normal realm of state budget matters. CIRM's budget cannot be cut by the governor or the legislature. CIRM spending (which is financed by state bonds) is untouchable because of constitutional changes approved in Prop. 71. That fact is not likely to be understood by the public. Beyond that, the increases are a symbol of governmental profligacy that will not sit well with many persons, regardless of their position on stem cell research. The pay hikes additionally will hand another cudgel to foes of human embryonic stem cell research.

The chair of the CIRM subcommitteee considering the pay increases on Wednesday is Sherry Lansing, a former Hollywood film studio executive and currently a member of the University of California regents. Several years ago, as a regent she went through a major flap concerning excessive compensation for top executives at many UC campuses.

That episode reflected poorly on UC, and CIRM is likely to suffer the same fate.

(The subcommittee meeting begins at 3 p.m. The public may participate in the sessions at locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Carlsbad and Irvine. You can find the specific addresses here.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:20 AM

    I am getting very tired of hearing about John M. Simpson and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

    His only interest is to make noise so he can convince more people to donate money. He is a self-fulfilling reason for existing.

    I have never seen his credentials as knowing anything about stem cells. Where did he get his Ph.D. or M.D. in cell biology?

    You do a disservice to your blog. To be aligned with him, discredits the quality of your message.


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