Stem cell agency’s lifespan is not fixed

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I got a phone call this week from Bob Klein, chairman of the California stem cell agency and its board’s attorney, James Harrison. They wanted to make sure I understood that there is no fixed, 10-year life span for the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

There is no sunset provision.

I told them I knew that, but agreed many people seem to be under the the misimpression that CIRM shuts down after 10 years.  I think they got that idea from the Proposition 71 campaign when backers said their intent was to sell $3 billion in bonds over 10 years. But there was never anything in Proposition 71 that required that timeframe. Indeed, backers talked about being flexible if there were delays, which everyone expected.

The 10-year description in my mind was a campaign sound bite to give voters a sense of the magnitude of what was envisioned. The Prop 71 authors, Klein and Harrison,  left themselves lots of flexibility in the actual initiative to deal with possible delays from such things as expected litigation.

It does pay to read what you’re voting for.

As I said, I always understood the 10-year description as rough estimate of when all the bonds would be sold.  It could be 10, 11 or 12 years. And, if the planned loan program brings in some revenue that might extend further the time research could be funded without seeking more money. 

Even after all the bonds are sold, CIRM will undoubtedly continue an oversight function for a couple more years as funded research continues after the bonds financing it have been sold.

It doesn’t really matter how long it takes for the $3 billion in bonds to be sold.  At some point the agency will need more money if it wants to continue. I suspect the board will want to stay in business, as most institutions tend to justify their continuing existence. The board will either ask for an appropriation from the general fund or, perhaps, through an initiative seek more bonds.

Whenever that time comes, it will be necessary to ask whether, after committing $6 billion counting interest of taxpayer money, CIRM deserves more.  The question will be: Given California’s other challenges, can it afford more money for stem cell research?  I don’t know what the answer will be then.  If the choice were being made today, my answer would be definitely not.

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