Friday, December 18, 2015

Will There Be Life After 2020 for the California Stem Cell Agency?

LOS ANGELES -- Directors of the California stem cell agency, which is due to run out of funds for new awards in five years, have begun what is likely to be a drawn-out public discussion of how to finance the agency's work beyond 2020.

The subject of life-after-death -- death being defined as termination of the agency's $3 billion in bond funds -- arose yesterday during a meeting of the agency's governing.

Options ranged from another bond issue to seeking private, philanthropic funds. However, unless the cash comes in the form of state bonds, it is not likely to amount to the $300 million-a-year the agency was authorized to spend during the last 11 years. California Gov. Jerry Brown has also more than once deplored the amount of state debt generated by state bonds.

The agency is funded through the bonds, money that the state borrows, that were authorized by a ballot initiative in 2004. Additional bonds could be provided through the initiative process, which requires millions of voter signatures, or by the state legislature placing another bond measure on the ballot. Then a campaign must be mounted. In 2004, the stem cell campaign cost more than $30 million.

No conclusions were reached yesterday other than referring the subject to the directors' legislative subcommittee, which is chaired by Art Torres, a former state lawmaker and chairman of the state Democratic Party.

One director, Jeff Sheehy, a communications manager at UC San Francisco, said it would be "weird" to have "somebody else control our fate by going out and collecting signatures." Sheehy did not mention it, but another initiative could also require changes in the agency itself, changes that the board might not welcome. Going to the legislature poses the same possibility of unwelcome changes.

The bond issue approach has been backed by Bob Klein, who directed the 2004 campaign and was the first chairman of the agency, largely as the result of specific, narrow qualifications for the post that he wrote into state via the initiative. In 2011, Klein left his post and the governing board.

Klein has talked about raising $5 billion for the agency through a bond measure, although not recently in publicly reported accounts. Last September, his stem cell advocacy group, which is headquartered in his real estate offices in Palo Alto, rose from hibernation with a Webinar highlighting "milestones" from Proposition 71, the measure that created the agency and which Klein has claimed credit for writing.

The California Stem Cell Report queried CIRM in September about the Webinar. Kevin McCormack, senior director for communications for the stem cell agency, replied that it was not asked to participate in the Webinar and would not have done so if asked.

CIRM director Sherry Lansing, former chair of the UC regents, urged a broad discussion of financing possibilities "the sooner the better." A number of other CIRM directors weighed in as well, indicating a general interest in moving forward on a path to future funding. No date for a meeting of the legislative committee was set.

The question of financial life after 2020 came up when CIRM Chairman Jonathan Thomas discussed a $30 million, "wind-down" fund for administrative expenses should the agency have to close its door because of a lack of funding. Thomas has secured $7 million in private donations as a start, but that money will not be available unless it is matched with an additional $23 million.

Randy Mills, CEO of the agency, presented an inscribed "game ball" to Thomas for raising the $7 million. It was the second game ball awarded at yesterday's meeting, apparently the beginning of a new tradition at the agency to recognize superlative performance. (For technically oriented readers, the award is a baseball -- not a football.)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:16 PM

    Wow! and the State still has to pay back the $3 Billion, which was totally wasted by fat cat bureaucrats. This will cost more than $100 Million per year. Do you think the State could find a better way to spend $100 Million per year? Do ya? Better than 10 years of lush office space for the fat cats? and don't forget about the huge pensions earned by these bureaucrats during that 10 year stretch.


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