Thursday, January 09, 2014

California Gov. Brown's State Stem Cell Spending Figures

California Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget contains numbers for the state's stem cell agency although he can do nothing legally about its spending, even if he wanted to.

That's because the agency was created in such a manner that neither the governor or the legislature can get their fingers on stem cell research dollars. The idea was to protect research from politics. So Prop. 71, the 10,000-word ballot initiative that created the agency, made changes in both the state constitution and state law that gave the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) unique autonomy.

Brown's proposed budget does cast CIRM spending in a different light than seen in the agency's budget presentations. It shows that CIRM spending is expected to rise from $213 million in 2012-13 to $293 million in 2014-15, nearly all of which goes for research awards. The agency has legal authority to tap $300 million a year from money that the state borrows and that goes directly to the agency.

The proposed budget also projects 59.5 employees at the San Francisco-based agency in 2014-15 compared to 56.7 in 2012-13. Projected operating expenses amount to $15.6 million for 2014-15, compared to a $13.8 million in 2012-13. 

Both figures are interesting in light of CIRM's figures that show that its operational budget for the current fiscal year exceeds $17 million. No reason for the discrepancy was immediately available, but we suspect it is probably a case of different methods of accounting or perhaps off-the-mark figures from the stem cell agency to the state Department of Finance, which compiles the state spending plan.

The agency operates under a spending cap of 6 percent of its total expenditures, also imposed by Prop. 71. It will run out of cash for awards in 2017 and is currently trying to devise a way to finance its future operations. Another bond issue, which requires voter approval, has not been ruled out, but most of the discussion focuses on some sort of public-private partnership at a level much diminished from $300 million annually.

While Brown cannot chip away at CIRM spending by the usual state process, the agency does take notice of his desire for sharp-eyed budgeting. A few years ago, the agency cut back on out-of-state travel after Brown announced restrictions for other state agencies.

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