Friday, March 13, 2020

Does the Failure of a Big Bond Measure Earlier This Month Mean Bad News for $5.5 Billion Stem Cell Proposal?

Tax fatigue: A problem for bond measures?
Was voter rejection of a $15 billion school bond measure a bad omen for another bond measure that would save the California stem cell agency from financial extinction? 

The question arises because the failure of the school bond proposal shocked its backers. The measure was considered nearly a certainty by some. However, it turned out to be the first state school bond measure to be rejected by voters in nearly three decades, despite almost non-existent organized opposition.  

Some attribute its March 3 downfall to "bond/tax fatigue," along with confusion. If so, the rejection of measure may not augur well for the proposed, $5.5 billion bond measure to refinance the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known. 

CIRM began life in 2004 with $3 billion provided by voters. It is now down to its last $27 million. The doors will begin closing in November if fresh financing is not found.  

CIRM's backers say there is a significant difference between what happened earlier this month and what may happen in November with the stem cell measure. 

In response to a question from the California Stem Cell Report, stem cell campaign spokeswoman Sarah Melbostad released a statement that said, "California voters did not have an emotional connection to Proposition 13," the school bond measure.

On the other hand, the statement indicated that the stem cell measure has emotion in abundance.
"Investing in the future health of our families and loved ones is one of the most important investments we can make today," the statement said.  "In the November 2020 election, California voters will have the opportunity to continue forging a pathway for life-saving treatments and cures." (Underlining by this writer)
The statement acknowledged the several reasons bandied about for Proposition 13's loss, including confusion.
"As many experts have noted, voters likely confused the ballot number with the well-known Proposition 13 from 1978 and voted no as a result." 
(Proposition 13 limited increases in property taxes, which stirred much concern in the 1970s and which continues to this day.)

Confusion could play a role as well in November on the stem cell measure. That is, confusion involving the research financed by CIRM and the dubious activities of unregulated clinics that purport to sell "stem cell" therapies that can cure everything from sexual dysfunction to bad knees -- all with the same product. 

The federal government has attempted to crack down on the "snake oil" clinics with mixed success. In California, both state medical regulators and legislators have not moved significantly on the clinics, whose treatments have led to lawsuits and accusations of physical and financial harm.  

That said, headlines also appear regularly on the Internet and elsewhere dealing with "miraculous" stem cell cures from the clinics. Many of claims are related by celebrities, including William Shatner (Capt. Kirk of Star Trek fame), sports figures and even a former Trump administration cabinet member/former Texas governor, Rick Perry

That attention could cut two different ways. One side could conceivably help build support generally for stem cell therapies by telling stories of success. The other side could lead to concern that all stem cell work is questionable. Ultimately, the old P.T. Barnum saying -- "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right." -- may come into play.

The election this month was also politically different than the presidential election next fall. Major elections, with their higher turnout, generally are regarded as more favorable for bonds. Plus the California voters have a 34-year, overall history of approving about 90 percent of the bond measures on the ballot. 

Here is the full text of the statement from Californians for Stem Cell Research, Treatments and Cures.
"Public polling data from PPIC consistently showed that Proposition 13 had only a very slim margin of support among likely voters.
"As many experts have noted, voters likely confused the ballot number with the well-known Proposition 13 from 1978 and voted no as a result.
"California voters may have also experienced school bond fatigue with the number of different school bonds passed in recent years — and are looking to the Governor and state legislature for other options.
"California voters did not have an emotional connection in regards to Proposition 13. Proponents of the ballot measure failed to demonstrate how funds would effect local communities and school districts.
"Investing in the future health of our families and loved ones is one of the most important investments we can make today—in the November 2020 election, California voters will have the opportunity to continue forging a pathway for life-saving treatments and cures.
"California voters’ breakthrough investment in 2004 firmly established the state as the global leader of stem cell research, we must continue to support these efforts in researching and developing new therapies, treatments and cures for chronic diseases, conditions and injuries.
"Patient advocates, leaders in medical research, revered medical practitioners and Nobel Prize winners support this Initiative because they all agree it is the most viable path to real treatments and cures for diseases that touch nearly all Californians – from cancer and diabetes to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s."

1 comment:

  1. Reader comment relay: Ed Snively, a longtime reader of this blog, sent the following comment on this item, "You offer some good points on the differences between Prop. 13 and the CIRM bond. I am afraid what wasn't fully taken into consideration is the financial impact of the business slowdown caused by the coronavirus. By November unemployment will have spiked upward and if fear and panic are still being fueled, I think voters will reject any and all bond measures. Voters have had it with high tax California. I think they will send the state a clear message. Remember, all of the businesses that will still be closed and the employees out of work. Unemployed voters are not going to vote for any bond issue. I am afraid CIRM is caught in a perfect storm and will go down to resounding defeat."


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