Thursday, October 10, 2019

Critics Unmoved by Economic Report; Still Say No More Billions for California's Stem Cell Agency

This week's relatively rosy report on the economic impact of California's $3 billion stem cell research program has not convinced longtime critics to change their positions and support giving it an additional $5 billion.

In the eyes of some opponents, the stem cell agency is still a boondoggle, a waste of money and an inappropriate use of state bonds, the borrowed money that is the only significant source of cash for the program. Other critics recommended moving the program to the University of California and restricting it to "breakthrough medicine."

The agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), expects to run out of money for new awards this month. It is hoping that voters will see value in its efforts and approve -- in November 2020 -- a $5.5 billion ballot initiative that would refinance the agency.

The 2004 initiative that created CIRM was handily approved by 59 percent of the voters following a campaign that created expectations that nearly miraculous therapies were right around the corner. The agency has yet to back a treatment that is widely available to the public.

The California Stem Cell Report queried a smattering of CIRM's critics following the release of the economic study, which said the agency has provided a "handsome dividend" to the state. The report from USC said, among other things, that CIRM-generated benefits exceed $10 billion and have led to nearly 60,000 jobs.

That was not good enough for state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa. He said,

"It was a boondoggle when it started and it still is. It's held up by emotional appeals, sustained by empty promises, and now rationalizing to extend its existence."
He continued,
"This study does not bring to light anything new. Doling out $3 billion to any entity or entities would generate the same economic metrics. The study is a shell."
"CIRM did not produce or sell anything of substance. It was not a stadium that created jobs around it, like restaurants, bars, and hotels."
Marc Joffe, a senior policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, said,
"I oppose the use of state general obligation bonding authority for any purpose other than building well-conceived civil infrastructure projects. The fact that spending bond proceeds generates economic activity is not surprising and not a reason to support a new bond in 2020. Similar studies have been released in support of the ill-conceived high-speed rail project: We might not get a usable system that takes many passengers out of their cars, but at least we created a lot of jobs in the Central Valley! This is not a persuasive argument for imposing more debt on our children, who already have the challenge of paying for Baby Boomer retirements."
Joe Rodota also responded. Rodato has worked for two Republican California governors. He and Bernard Munos, a senior fellow with FasterCures and the founder of the Innothink Center for Research in Biomedical Innovation,
have advocated a change in California's stem cell program that would restrict funding to businesses with a significant California presence and move the effort to the University of California.

Rodota said,

"Under our proposal, in exchange for providing funding to private companies engaged in developing stem-cell therapies, the University of California would receive shares, alongside any shares sold to private investors. Although the report categorizes equity sold to private investors as part of the 'economic stimulus created by CIRM funding,' that equity is held by private investors, not the University of California."
You can read the full text of the critics' remarks here. 
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