California Props 2020

Prop 14 issues billions to the state's stem cell agency

Published: Mon, Oct 12, 2020, 7:26 PM
Updated: Mon, Oct 26, 2020, 12:39 AM
California Props 2020

Prop 14 issues billions to the state's stem cell agency

Published: Mon, Oct 12, 2020, 7:26 PM
Updated: Mon, Oct 26, 2020, 12:39 AM

Prop 14 would issue $5.5 billion to continue to fund the state's stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The agency mostly gives out grants to research stem cell therapies and treatments. 16 years later, that money (~$3B) is nearly depleted. Supporters of Prop 14 say that CIRM has made important advancements in using stem cells to treat cancer, for example, and that CIRM has made California the leader in the field. Those against Prop 14 argue that, among other reasons, the public shouldn't be paying for this now that stem cell research is no longer federally restricted. 

Stem cells, medically interesting because they can become other types of cells, were about as hot a topic as Britney Spears in 2001. Stem cells are commonly extracted from lab-made human embryos, and much like Britney's music videos, caused a national debate on its ethics. The Bush administration banned federal funding to create human embryonic stem cells in 2001, but the Obama administration lifted that ban in 2009. Prop 71 (2004), which funded and created CIRM, was a way for California to fund stem cell research in a time without federal funding.

Looking at CIRM's track record, not everyone agrees on how to interpret it. The Legislative Analyst's Office breaks down how it has spent $3B. According to its website, CIRM grants have led to 64 clinical trials, of which a handful are in Phase 3 clinical trials, the final stage before approval from the FDA for wider use. Patients of some of these experimental therapies have voiced their support for Prop 14. For them, CIRM has literally saved their lives. Opponents of Prop 14 applaud the work that has been done, and say CIRM should use its successes to seek independent funding.

In terms of ROI, those opposed to Prop 14 point to how CIRM was originally sold to voters, namely that it would generate over a billion in revenue for the state from royalties. The LAO estimates about $350K has been generated. Supporters claim a much higher ROI when looking at the economic impact of CIRM, citing a USC study that says CIRM created over $10B in additional sales revenue, over a billion in tax revenue, and over 50K full-time equivalent jobs concentrated in science and medicine.

The money for Prop 14 would come from a general obligation bond, a common mechanism for California to borrow money. Investors buy these low-risk bonds to be repaid with interest by the state over many years. To borrow $5.5B for Prop 14, the state will pay $7.8B over the next 30 years.

Having trouble understanding how this fits in the state's budget? That's one argument the No side cites: propositions have no room for negotiation like typical legislation, and unlike legislators, voters can't weigh the trade-offs relative to other issues. The Yes side says Prop 14 we will save Californians (money and lives) in the long run.

In addition to providing a lifeline to CIRM, Prop 14 would restructure CIRM's board and expand its mission. David Jensen, a former journalist who has covered CIRM since 2005 and runs The California Stem Cell Report (literally a 15yo blog about CIRM), says its expanded mission would let CIRM look at how to make stem cell therapies affordable. It would form a committee to research financial models for health insurance companies, potentially generating more revenue than its past 16 years.

Critics of Prop 14, including a current board member, also point out that Prop 14 doesn't address the conflicts of interest that have plagued the board. Many of the people on CIRM's board work for institutions that receive the grants from CIRM. Prop 14 would increase the size of the board to 35, despite a recommendation from a study it itself commissioned.

Heh just read that Trump's treatment included a drug developed with the help of stem cells

Oh turns out they weren't stem cells, just embryonic kidney cells. I was wondering if one of them was Josiah. He grew up to be a kidney cell.

Isn't that a neat story? Parts of Josiah went inside Donald Trump.

How much longer do you think we'll be in this lab?

Dunno, maybe depends on if CIRM gets funding again through Prop 14

I know CIRM gave us the grant that funds us now, but don't you think we'll be able to secure another grant? Federal spending on types of stem cell research is over $2 billion.

Yea but who tf knows what the federal government will do. CIRM funding would guarantee stem cell research in California for another 10+ years.

Plus, we might get to turn into cells to fight Alzheimer’s, Parkinson's, dementia, schizophrenia, to name a few.

Wouldn't that be a neat story to go into someone's brain

I'm all for fighting those diseases, but I'm also a cell. I'm a team player, and I don't know if this is the best use of money, especially when Covid really messed up the outside world.

The main reason CIRM was started was that President Bush wanted us dead.

or alive? 🤔

Now that federal funding is no longer restricted, we don't need the state to be funding it.

But again, who tf knows what the federal govt will do. Trump suspended federal funding in 2019 for most new scientific research involving fetal tissue derived from abortions.

True true, but stem cells have shown their usefulness in developing therapies, and CIRM has made California the leader in stem cell research. We'll be okay in finding funding.

Funny, I would say the exact same thing and argue that's why we need to continue funding CIRM

Note: We intentionally omit links to arguments & rebuttals found in CA's official voter guide. We believe they exaggerate claims, are not fact-checked, and use ALL CAPS irresponsibly.