California’s stem cell agency has agreed to start paying a salary to Chairman Robert Klein, who has served unpaid since the institute began four years ago.
The oversight board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine voted Dec. 10 to give Klein a $150,000 annual salary effective Dec. 8, a pay level it said reflected that the job is a half-time position. It also could award the person who eventually fills the vice chairman position up to $332,000. The board had earlier established a full-time pay range for the chairman position at $275,000 to $508,750. Klein had requested that he start earning a salary.
John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based group that tracks CIRM policies and spending, said it was "wildly inappropriate" for the board even to consider a salary at the upper end of that range.
Klein and other CIRM officials were not available to comment for this story.
In a Dec. 4 letter to members of the oversight board, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he had "deep concern" about the plan to compensate Klein and the vice chairman.
"CIRM has a responsibility to spend taxpayer money with great care, so I urge you to ensure that compensation for these positions is offered only if and to the extent absolutely necessary to implement its mission," Schwarzenegger wrote.
The governor said he will be nominating someone for the vice chairman position. His nominee reportedly would not take a salary.
Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who also gets to nominate a candidate, has tapped California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres for the position. Torres recently told The Sacramento Bee that he would seek a salary for the job.
"I do need a salary because I am not a wealthy person," Torres told the newspaper’s online news service.
Chiron Corp. founder Ed Penhoet, who stepped down from the vice chairman position last month but will remain on the oversight board, took no salary.
CIRM also pays President Alan Trounson $490,000. Plus, the agency this summer hired John Robson, associate dean of faculty affairs at McGill University in Montreal, as vice president of operations for $310,000.
The pay issue comes up at a critical time for California and CIRM. Lockyer on Dec. 8 told a joint session of the state Legislature that the Pooled Money Investment Account — from which state agencies borrow before bonds are issued — will stop giving out loans without a solution to the state’s budget problems.
Although CIRM doesn’t need additional money until probably late 2009, the PMIA is the lifeblood of state infrastructure financing, said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for the treasurer.