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Employees at the California's stem cell agency face a salary freeze for the rest of the year, "in solidarity with the state."

Bob Klein, chairman of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) described the plan at the board's meeting on Friday as the fiscal 2008-09 budget was being discussed.  He said it was a gesture to the financial realities the state is facing with its $15 billion deficit, even though the California Institute For Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has a completely independent budget.

This is a sensible PR gesture by an agency whose leadership too frequently in the past has not seemed to understand that it is part of state government. Kudos for the step.

It's difficult to know the exact financial impact. The proposed fiscal 2008-09 budget includes $250,000 for merit and cost-of-living increases. How much of that falls in this calendar year and how much comes in 2009 is not clear.

Nonetheless -- as with many things in life -- it's the thought that counts . And this was a good one.

And here's another:  It's one thing to win positive public relations on the back of hardworking staff, perhaps leadership should walk an extra mile.  When I was working in the newspaper business even before this most recent downward economic spiral, Tribune Company, froze all employee salaries one year.  They also cut the pay for about 200 executives companywide.

So how about it CIRM? What about a 10 percent cut for any employee making more than $190,000?  That would be real leadership.