California Stem Cell Agency Raises Execs’ Top Pay Levels 23 Percent

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California’s stem cell research agency on Wednesday raised top pay levels for its executives and lead lawyers 23 percent and then, less than an hour later, filled one of those positions at a salary of $310,000, near the top of the new range.

The 29-member board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, meeting at Sacramento’s Crest Theatre, approved the pay ranges unanimously after little discussion.

The increases are significantly smaller than what the agency’s staff proposed last month to a subcommittee of the governing board.

Under the new rules, the maximum salary for the agency’s president and the chair of the governing board will be $508,750, while pay for second-tier executives and the board’s vice chair will top out at $332,000. The agency’s top two attorneys will make up to $277,500.

Wednesday’s decision does not give a pay raise to any current employees. The board’s current chair and vice chair, Robert Klein and Ed Penhoet, have declined to draw salaries.

Shortly after the pay-range decision, the board announced the hiring of Marie Csete, an Emory University professor of anesthesiology, as the agency’s chief scientific officer. Csete fills the vacancy left by Arlene Chiu, who resigned Oct. 31.

Csete has worked with the stem cell agency since 2005 as a member of a working group charged with crafting the agency’s research strategy.

While the stem cell agency has a dedicated source of funding from the sale of bonds and will not be directly affected by California’s budget crisis, some have criticized the new pay levels given the state’s current troubles.

“I just don’t think it was the right time to do this,” said John Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “It’s tone-deaf.”

Proposition 71, the 2004 ballot that created the stem cell agency, directed the board to set salaries roughly equal to what comparable positions pay at University of California medical schools and major private research institutes conducting stem cell research.

A survey commissioned by the agency indicates that the top salaries approved Wednesday range from the median to the 65th percentile of salaries at those institutions.

Directors of federal medical research agencies such as the National Institutes of Health make considerably lower base salaries, according to NIH spokesman Don Ralbovsky, who said he could not immediately provide exact salary information.
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