Tuesday, January 11, 2011

California Suspends Bond Sales: Potential Impact on Stem Cell Agency

The state of California, dogged by a mammoth financial crisis, is postponing the sale of state bonds this year, raising questions about the move's impact on the state's stem cell research effort, which is funded solely through the borrowed money.

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer said yesterday the delay in selling state bonds until later this year would save the state $248 million. It would be the first time that the state has not sold bonds in the first half of the year since 1988, according to Bloomberg News. Lockyer's action came as part of the stringent state budget proposed yesterday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

On Dec. 14, Robert Klein, chairman of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, told its directors that the reliability of the agency's funding needed “immediate attention” because of a notice that his office had “just” received from the state treasurer. Klein declared,
“Recent applications for clinical trial rounds and the acceleration of our funding commitments on our other programs require an immediate focus on this issue, given there may not be another opportunity until late 2011 to authorize additional bond funding.”
Klein also said that early this year “our collaborative funding partner nations” will require “assurances of our future performance.”

Klein's warning came on the eve of his successful bid to be re-elected as chairman of the agency. The notice from the treasurer did not carry the urgency that Klein indicated and was nearly two weeks old by the time he told directors about it. It also arrived in Klein's office the day before he gave a rosy financial assessment to the directors' Finance Subcommittee and said no problems existed with its bond financing.

We have queried CIRM concerning its view of the impact of the suspension of state bond sales. In the past, CIRM officials have said it has enough cash on hand to operate and award grants to about June 2012.

According to the Bloomberg article by Michael Marois and Alison Vekshin, California has about $69 billion in securities outstanding as of the end of June. Another $100 billion in debt has been authorized by voters but has not been issued.

The article said that debt service, including the interest on stem cell bonds, will cost the state nearly $5 billion in the next fiscal year, even after the moratorium.

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