Friday, January 10, 2014

Stem Cell Agency Financing Proposal a Mystery to Some

A proposed ballot measure that could mean the financial survival of the $3 billion California stem cell agency was little known to the agency itself until early this week and is a mystery to backers of a similar tobacco tax proposal in 2012.

Kevin McCormack, senior director for communications at the agency, said,
“Individuals at CIRM did hear about the possibility of another tobacco tax measure but did not know any of the details, including the 30 percent provision for us, until the initiative was filed on Tuesday.” 
He told the California Stem Cell Report in an email, 
“As for being in support of the plan, the board has not yet had a chance to consider this measure and therefore we do not have any position on it.”
Some of the agency's board members also indicated that they were not involved with the proposal and learned of it only today.

Jim Knox, vice president for advocacy of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Sacramento, said in a telephone interview that none of the groups that backed the unsuccessful Prop. 29 in 2012 was involved in the latest effort.

The proposed initiative was filed Monday by Santa Ana attorney Frank Barbaro, the former chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party. It would impose a $1.00-a-pack tax on cigarettes to fund brain research and related illnesses, raising roughly $700 million annually. Thirty percent would be routed directly to the stem cell agency, which will run out of money for new grants in 2017.

Barbaro has not yet responded to a request for comment. 

Knox, who was involved in the 2012 campaign, described the situation involving the latest initiative as bit of a mystery and “strange.” He said “no one has heard” about the proposal. He said the language, however, was clearly adopted from the Prop. 29 initiative. "They stole all our language," he said.

Knox said the proposal was filed very late to qualify for the November 2014 ballot. He said Barbaro will not get his proposal back from the attorney general's office until February sometime, leaving him a very short period to gather signatures by the end of May. That is the usual deadline for qualifying measures for the November ballot.

Knox said it is possible that signatures could be gathered in time but that it would be expensive. Roughly one million signatures are needed at a cost that could run as high as $5 or so.

Knox said the Barbaro initiative could be held until the November 2016 general election.

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