October 23, 2004
Prop. 71 invests in future of California, mankind
NOTHING in medical science spells HOPE more emphatically for victims of a multitude of debilitating diseases and ailments than stem cell research.
That is why California is attempting to establish itself as the stem cell research capital of the world. Biosciences are already an integral part of our economy that we can't afford to lose.
Proposition 71 would assure our future role in that research. It also is the one initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot guaranteed to attract national and international attention.
Prop. 71 would amend the California Constitution and authorize the sale of up to $3 billion in general obligation bonds to establish and fund a stem cell research institute. It is a bold effort to correct what many scientists see as a federal policy error by making California a funding source as well as a center for such research. This unique nexus of science and politics defies limitations put on such studies by President Bush.
Backed by more than 20 Nobel Prize-winning doctors and researchers who say it could revolutionize medical treatment; businesses, including firms that may benefit; advocates for victims of incurable diseases and injuries; and a growing number of politicians, the initiative extends California's tradition of being on the cutting edge of infant technologies.
Scientists believe stem cell research could foster treatments and cures for such diseases as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, lung diseases and spinal injuries.
A new California Institute for Regenerative Medicine would screen applicants and award grants and loans. It would employ 50 people and be governed by a 29-member oversight committee composed of representatives from UC campuses, medical and research institutes, companies with expertise in disease research and state appointees.
There would be a ceiling of $350 million a year in bonds. All $3 billion must be sold in 10 years. The $350 million is twice what the federal government spent on stem cell research in 2002.
Human reproductive cloning would be prohibited. The president issued an order three years ago limiting federal funding of embryonic stem cell studies to 78 stem cell lines. A small fraction are still available.
The biggest caveat for California is economic. We face a shortfall of at least $10 billion next fiscal year, and neither the governor nor Legislature has been willing to make the tough choices needed to erase our ongoing deficit and balance the budget. California has $40 billion in general fund bond debt with another $30 billion approved but not yet sold. In 2008-09, our debt-service ratio is expected to peak at a lofty 7.5 percent of state revenues. Prop. 71 would add $6 billion to the debt and $200 million a year in payments.
Stem cell research is an iffy proposition but also a source of hope for those seeking to conquer mankind's most debilitating diseases. If the federal government won't back such research, California should, with an eye toward its possible human and economic benefits. Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Treasurer Phil Angelides, potential rivals in the 2006 gubernatorial race, agree on the desirability of stem cell research for California.
"Research that we do now holds the promise of cures for tomorrow ... We daringly led the way for the high-tech industry, and now voters can help ensure we lead the way for the biotech industry," says the governor.
"This borrowing is a smart public investment," notes Angelides, adding that it has "a genuine chance for a payoff" for our state.
California is already a bioscience hub with 250,000 people employed in biomedical sciences and about 50 percent of the world's capacity. Without stem cell research, we could lose that edge to nations that invest in it.
California is the sixth-leading economy in the world. It should pursue such elevated goals. It's an investment in our future.
Vote "yes" on Prop. 71.