Tuesday, October 07, 2008

CIRM's Financial Immunity

Just how protected is the California stem cell agency from the financial travails of the state of California?

Almost entirely.

During the legislative/gubernatorial budget stalemate earlier this year, nursing homes, hospitals and other private sector providers to the state did not get paid by the state for nearly three months. Some firms went out of business or had to borrow money because the state could not pay its bills.

That did not happen with those providing services to the state stem cell agency because of its unique and unprecedented constitutional position, which assures that it has cash regardless of how the rest of the state is affected.

CIRM's extraordinary position was mentioned briefly last month at the agency's Governance Subcommittee meeting.

John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog asked,
"Is it the case that because of the state's budget crisis, the vendors have not actually gotten paid? Does that affect the (grant) checks actually being handed over?"
CIRM Chairman Robert Klein responded,
"No, it doesn't. our funds are segregated from the state budget."
All of which raises significant governmental policy questions. One can make a case that stem cell research cannot proceed properly if it is cut back every time the governor cannot muscle a budget out of lawmakers. But should researchers be treated differently than hospitals? Should they be treated better than needy children dependent on state aid?

Locking up public money in special funds is part of the state's budgetary problem. However, there are no good answers that will satisfy everybody concerning the creation of special pockets of cash for what almost everybody agrees are worthwhile endeavors, whether they are stem cell research or special programs for gifted children.

Nonetheless, it is likely to appear a bit unseemly to a good segment of the public for the stem cell agency to hand out tens of millions of dollars while California is so hard pressed that it may have to ask the federal government for a $7 billion short term loan so that it can pay its bills.

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