A Waste of Time and Money
With federal funding uncertain, efforts to lobby states for research funds began in 2001, or earlier. To date, only five states have promised to allocate funds to embryonic stem cell research. In 2004, New Jersey passed a state budget that included $5.5 million for stem cell research, and Californians approved a $3 billion bond measure to fund research over 10 years. In 2005, Connecticut set aside $100 million, Illinois $10 million, and, in 2006, Maryland authorized $15 million.
By early 2007, few of these promised funds had actually made it to researchers. It takes time and money to establish the various government boards, panels, and institutes that will be responsible for awarding grants, and, in several cases, money has been spent on building research facilities and educational programs intended to train future stem cell researchers.
To make matters worse, in some states, like California, funding is being held up by legal challenges that will take years to resolve. Of the $3 billion authorized by voters when they passed Prop. 71 in 2004, as yet, not a penny has been spent on embryonic stem cell research.
California also serves as an example of another kind of government waste. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that the total cost of the Prop. 71 bond issue will be $3 billion in principal and another $3 billion in interest to be paid off over 30 years.
These are just estimates, and, if the bond anticipation notes sold by California earlier this year are any indication, the estimate is low. Those bonds were for $14 million in principal and $21 million in interest to be paid off over 30 years. Also, added to this cost must be the costs of administering the referendum and the cost to the taxpayer in defending the legal actions against Prop. 71.
Almost all stem cell research funding initiatives currently being considered on the state level involve bond issues that, when all is said and done, will cost tax payers at least twice their actual investment in embryonic stem cell research related expenditures.
Government funding isn’t advantageous when funds that could be spent on research are spent on lobbying, political upheaval over the issue of funding leads to restrictions on all research, money is thrown at extremely high-risk but low-yield projects, and efforts are wasted on obtaining close to worthless knowledge.
Private contributors spent $30 million or more in their efforts to pass California’s Prop. 71. That money would have been better spent in the form of a grant to a private research institution.
Even some of the biggest proponents for government funding have started to have second thoughts. Just this month, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research made a significant, but undisclosed, contribution to ReNeuron, which says the donation will cover its operating costs for at least the next year and accelerate its progress toward trials in humans.