Today, the governing board of California's multi-billion dollar stem cell research program meets in Los Angeles. At the top of their agenda is the final approval of $227 million toward major facilities construction. The state's two largest newspapers each had a preview this morning, yet they were quite different from one another.
The splashy full-color spread on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle spent almost 1200 words doing little more than repeating the talking points of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the stem cell agency. In fact, it only used quotes from grant recipients and CIRM itself.
In contrast, in little over 400 words the Los Angeles Times covers much mroe ground. The article quoted two public interest critics: Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson, who praised the lab construction, and me. I noted, "The primary argument that was presented for Proposition 71 -
particularly in the area of large facilities - is becoming less and
less important. Bush's restrictions will most likely be undone
before the first brick is laid." The Times also pointed out that the largest CIRM grant will go to Stanford University, which not only is a private institution but also has the third largest endowment among universities in the nation, and that this is being done in the context of budget cuts to state universities.
But the Times didn't have the space in the stem cell article to describe how bad the fiscal situation really is. The bond rating of the state is low and falling, and California will face a cash-flow crisis this summer. The governor's budget proposes to close 48 state parks and slash education, including the budget of the state's university systems. Veteran political observer Peter Schrag says the the University of California is being put "on a long-term downward trajectory that will continue to erode quality, limit access and permanently damage what for decades was the nation's premier system of public higher education."
At least we'll have all those stem cell researchers and new buildings.