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Stem Cell Research Worth It

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California's stem cell agency was created by voters in 2004 and funded with some $3 billion in bonds.

With the money expected to run out in five years, the agency's backers are talking about going to voters and asking for up to $4 billion more.

Critics of the agency -- and there are many -- see this as nuts.

The agency hasn't produced the cures it promised in an over-the-top initiative campaign back in '04 (complete with Christopher Reeve talking from the great beyond).

It has a strange governance system that has made it an independent entity, not subject to the oversight and accountability that a state agency might have. The agency isn't as important now that President Obama has lifted federal restrictions on this type of research.

And of course, the state budget is badly broken -- so why should voters approve another bond that would have to be paid back out of the state general fund?

The answer: they probably shouldn't.

But that doesn't necessarily mean there shouldn't be another stem cell bond. California's major universities have invested in stem cell research, with help from the agency.

Major researchers have relocated to the state. And the unknown nature of stem cell research's promise, while frustrating efforts to justify the research dollar for dollar, argues for doing more to learn more.

What the state budget picture does require is that any stem cell bond should have a clear funding mechanism -- a specific tax or new revenue source (some sort of levy on companies and people involved in the business of health care) -- that would be more than enough to pay back any bond.

New stem cell moneys can't come out of funds that would otherwise go to other programs.

That will make passing a bond even more difficult this time. So be it.

But there's a killer argument the stem cell agency backers could employ: We're way cheaper than high-speed rail.

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