States Quietly Leap Ahead of Calif. in Stem Cell Funding

In 2004, when California voters approved a $3 billion dollar funding program for embryonic stem cell research, all eyes turned to the Golden State as the new national center for research. Yet according to a new report, other states including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York may have moved quietly into the lead when it comes to funding.

As we detail in the Nisbet & Mooney Speaking Science 2.0 presentation [slides & audio], though Proposition 71 is a great example of how public support was gained by narrowly framing the issue in terms of social progress and economic development. Yet since the initiative's passage, religious opponents have successfully held up the distribution of funds in California by recasting the issue around public accountability interpretations.

Specifically, these arguments raise the allegation that funds are serving the private interests of scientists and biotech companies rather than the public interest of taxpayers. This frame is especially appealing to reporters and opinion writers who are often drawn to "watchdog" type stories involving possible "political corruption." In fact, several editorials at the Los Angeles Times have adopted this frame in drawing attention to concerns over the allocation and use of funding. Consider this lede:

Los Angeles Times
January 17, 2006

AT THE HEART OF CALIFORNIA'S multibillion-dollar experiment in public stem cell research are two promises. One is that such research will save lives. The other is that the scientists conducting it, and the agency funding it, will be accountable. The first is as magnificent as it is exaggerated; the second is more practical but as yet unfulfilled.

Given the the ability of opponents to re-frame the issue in California and hold up the allocation of funds, other states according to the have taken the lead in the actual distribution of monies. These states include:

New Jersey became the first state to appropriate money for the research, earmarking $10 million in January 2004 to be distributed over 10 years to stem-cell research labs. The Garden State was also the first to distribute funds to researchers. In December 2005, the Commission on Science and Technology gave $5 million of the appropriation to 17 research projects at university, nonprofit and corporate labs in the state. This year, Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed legislation to provide another $270 million to build and equip five stem-cell and biomedical research facilities in the state.

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) signed a measure in June 2005 to provide $100 million in state funding over 10 years for embryonic stem-cell research. The first round of grants -- nearly $20 million -- was awarded in November 2006 by the Connecticut Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee to support research at the University of Connecticut, Yale University and Wesleyan University.

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) signed a budget measure in April 2007 that sets aside $600 million for stem cell research over the next 11 years. Spitzer's deputy, Lt. Gov. David Paterson, termed the state action a stopgap measure. "Leadership at the national level is absolutely critical on this issue and, sadly, it has been non existent for far too long. New York has had to fill this gap in the interim," Paterson said in a statement.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in May 2007 proposed $1 billion in funding for stem cell research, a move aimed at sealing the state's reputation as a worldwide leader in biotechnology. Earlier in the year, Patrick proposed changes to public health rules designed to lift a bureaucratic barrier to the research created by his Republican predecessor, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, an opponent of stem cell research.

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