Tuesday, September 08, 2020

$5.5 Billion California Stem Cell Campaign Intensifies, Voting Begins in One Month

California's 21 million voters soon will be receiving mail that tells them a $5.5 billion stem cell ballot measure is "outrageous," unaffordable and will perpetuate long-standing problems with the state's stem cell research program. 

The assertions are contained in the official state voter guide. It also says the state stem cell agency, which is running out of money, has made "significant progress" in developing therapies during its 15-year life. 

Supporters say in the pamphlet that Proposition 14 will "dramatically expand access to clinical trials and new therapies, make treatments and cures more affordable for Californians, and provide patients, their families, and caregivers with financial assistance."

The ballot measure is intended to re-finance the agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which will begin closing its doors this winter unless the proposition is approved. CIRM's original $3 billion is nearly gone. The ballot measure that created it in 2004 provided no funding beyond the state bonds that were approved then. 

Because the money is borrowed, the actual cost to taxpayers rises. In the case of Proposition 14's $5.5 billion, the cost climbs to an estimated $7.3 billion, according to the state legislative analyst. The original $3 billion actually will cost about $4 billion, according to CIRM, and will not be paid off for many years.

The voters' guide is aimed at very briefly allowing supporters and opponents of ballot measures to make their cases. The guide has been issued by the state for many decades prior to actual voting, which begins in about a month -- not Nov. 3, which is the last day to vote either by mail or in person. 

Absentee voting has long been practiced in California. During the presidential primary election earlier this year, 72 percent of the ballots were cast by mail. The percentage is likely to be higher this fall because of Covid-19 and the intense interest in the presidential race. 

The mail-in voting pressures campaign organizations to make their cases very early and to assure that the turn-out of their supporters begins as soon as possible. Voters can expect to see more pitches for Proposition 14 in coming weeks. The opposition is not well organized and unlikely to mount a large media effort. 

In addition to the pro and con arguments, the guide includes the full text of the roughly 10,000-word measure, which is written in legalese and less than transparent. The legislative analyst's summary does a good job as far as it goes. 

However, important aspects of the measure are missing from the summary, including how CIRM's scope would be greatly expanded to include such things as funding research for "aging as a pathology" and "therapy delivery."  You can read about those here on the California Stem Cell Report.

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