No 'Blank Check' for Stem Cell Research
A Senate budget panel yesterday sliced in half Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. 's proposed funding for stem cell research next year and tied the remaining money to pending Democratic-backed legislation that the full chamber will start debating tomorrow.
Ehrlich (R) had proposed spending $20 million on stem cell research, leaving it to a technology board to decide which projects to fund. Under the governor's plan, work on both embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells would be eligible for state funding.
The Senate subcommittee provision approved yesterday provides $10 million and requires the money to be spent according to guidelines contained in one of two bills pending in the legislature. Both bills provide a preference for embryonic work, which is opposed by most social conservatives, and include details about how the grant process would work.
"We're not willing to give him a blank check," Sen. P.J. Hogan (D-Montgomery), vice chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said after the meeting. "We want to know how the money is going to be spent."
Senators reduced the governor's proposed spending, Hogan said, because of concerns that all $20 million could not be spent in the first year of the program. Lawmakers believe it will take some time to set up a process for evaluating proposals from university and private-sector researchers.
If the General Assembly fails to pass either version of the pending stem cell legislation, the money could not be spent, under the terms of the Senate panel's action.
The move comes just days before the Senate is scheduled to take up legislation authorizing state spending on stem cell research in future years. Republicans are vowing to filibuster that legislation.
Besides the cuts in stem cell research, the Senate panel shaved an additional $25 million from the governor's budget yesterday, including a $10 million grant to the horse-racing industry and $5 million from need-based aid for college students. Despite the cut, the scholarship fund still will increase 21.6 percent, and Democrats are pressing to freeze increases in tuition.
From the Other Side of the Fence
There was no suspense surrounding yesterday's endorsement announcement: Word had gotten out last week that the AFL-CIO is backing the gubernatorial bid of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D).
But the event was noteworthy because of its location. O'Malley appeared on a makeshift stage outside AFL-CIO headquarters in Annapolis, just a stone's throw from the mansion he wants to live in next year.
"Isn't Annapolis going to be a much better place once we're on that side of the fence?" O'Malley asked a crowd of about 50 people standing between him and the lawn of Government House, the current residence of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.