Monday, April 09, 2012

Consumer Watchdog Says 'Serious Consideration' Needed on Continued Cash for State Stem Cell Agency

IRVINE, Ca. – The Consumer Watchdog organization says that serious consideration should be given to whether the state should halt borrowing money to finance the $3 billion California stem cell agency.

The statement was prepared for delivery tomorrow here to a blue-ribbon Institute of Medicine panel evaluating the performance of the research effort, which was created by a ballot initiative in 2004. The agency's only real source of cash is bonds issued by the state, which means the agency will cost $6 billion including interest by end of its grant-making life in about 2017.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., said that the political and scientific environment has changed substantially since 2004. The Bush Administration had restricted federal funding of hESC research then, causing an uproar in the scientific community. Funding has since been restored.

Simpson said the stem cell measure "made sense" seven years ago. He said the stem cell agency and its governing board "must recognize that the political, scientific and economic environment have dramatically altered since the passage of Proposition 71."

His statement continued,
"It is also appropriate to consider seriously whether issuing all $3 billion in authorized bonds is the correct policy in light of the new environment and economic realties facing the state."
Simpson was invited make his statement to the IOM panel, which is midway through its public process of looking into CIRM's operations. It is doing so at the behest of CIRM, which is paying the prestigious organization $700,000 to perform the work.

Simpson also made a number of recommendations for changes at CIRM, many of which would require a change in state law or passage of another ballot measure. Proposition 71, which created CIRM and altered the state Constitution, requires a super, super-majority vote (70 percent) by the legislature to make changes at CIRM.

The Consumer Watchdog proposals (full text below) include reducing the size of the 29-member board to 15, including public members on the board, reducing the super-majority requirement on board quorums to a majority, eliminating the controversial dual executive arrangement at CIRM, conducting grant reviews in public and publicly disclosing the financial interests of reviewers.Consumer Watchdog Statement to IOM-CIRM Panel April 9, 2012

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