Proposition 71

PROPOSITION 71….Given my general policy of voting no on all ballot initiatives, Chris Mooney wonders how I’m planning to vote on Proposition 71, a $3 billion bond measure that would fund stem cell research.

Sadly, the answer is that I’m probably going to vote no. I generally support taxpayer funded basic research, and I really, really support the symbolism of sticking it to George Bush and the Christian right zealots who were responsible for cutting off federal funding for most embryonic stem cell research in 2001.

But one of the reasons I’m opposed to the initiative process in general is that it’s lousy public policy for the electorate to continually lock in long-term funding for pet projects via constitutional amendments or (as in this case) bond measures. This is one of the reasons California’s finances are in such bad shape: we’ve spent the last couple of decades allocating about 80% of state spending via constitutional amendment ? and then griping loudly when the legislature and the governor don’t have the maneuvering room to fix things during economic downturns.

If the legislature wanted to allocate money for embryonic stem cell research, I’d evaluate it on its merits. (Although since California is bankrupt at the moment, the timing wouldn’t exactly be favorable.) But adding yet another spending mandate via the initiative process is a bad idea, and the fact that this particular spending is something I support doesn’t change that.

Bottom line: I’m probably voting no on 71 unless I hear some awfully good arguments in favor. Feel free to make them in comments.