Will California’s New Governor Stem the Tide of White-Coat Waste and Cronyism?
During the recent election campaign, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters he would continue building the $98.5-billion bullet train, which is “not a train to nowhere.” The part about boring through the Tehachapi Mountains, however, “is an open-ended question.” For the $17 billion water tunnel project, Newsom wanted a “more modest proposal,” perhaps a single tunnel, because “the status quo is not helping salmon.” He would advance “a fresh set of ideas” on the tunnel and the train, hardly the only holdover projects that await his attention.
Back in 2004, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backed the $3 billion Proposition 71, which promised a host of life-saving cures and therapies for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases through embryonic stem-cell research. The cures and therapies would generate revenues and royalties for the state, so it was billed as a win-win for the state. The measure created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which in the early going handed out 91 percent of research funding to institutions with representatives on its governing board. The CIRM board even overruled the Institute’s own scientific reviewers, who twice rejected a proposal to fund a for-profit company on whose behalf CIRM founder Robert Klein had lobbied. CIRM also became a soft landing spot for over-the-hill politicians like Art Torres, a former state senator and non-scientist.
CIRM bosses bagged huge salaries but produced none of the promised cures and therapies. As the San Francisco Chronicle observed in September, “not a single federally approved therapy has resulted from CIRM-funded science. The predicted financial windfall has not materialized.”
No royalties appeared until last May, when a check for $190,345.87 arrived, not enough to cover the annual salary of CIRM’s part-time vice chairman. CIRM is a scientific and financial bust, and almost completely off limits to state oversight, but as the Chronicle notes, “supporters of CIRM and the research it funds are preparing to ask the public for another $5 billion in 2020.”
Perhaps California’s new governor will come up with a fresh set of ideas, but CIRM is not the only throwback to the Schwarzenegger era. Gov. Schwarzenegger’s pick for state finance director was Ana Matosantos, with a BA in feminist studies and political science. She also worked for Gov. Brown and for Covered California and has recently been involved in a conflict-of-interest case in her native Puerto Rico. Governor-elect Newsom has named Ana Matosantos his cabinet secretary.