Schwarzenegger Gives $150M Stem Cell Loan

The Associated Press
Thursday, July 20, 2006; 10:25 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A day after President Bush vetoed expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday authorized a $150 million loan to fund California's stem cell institute, which has been stalled by lawsuits.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican who has been trying to put distance between himself and the unpopular president as he seeks re-election this year, said the state cannot afford to wait to fund the critical science associated with stem cells.

"I remain committed to advancing stem cell research in California, in the promise it holds for millions of our citizens who suffer from chronic diseases and injuries that could be helped as a result of stem cell research," Schwarzenegger said in a letter to his finance director.

The state's voters created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine in 2004 when they passed a ballot measure that authorized $3 billion over 10 years for stem cell research.

Lawyers with ties to anti-abortion and anti-tax groups have sued, arguing that the institute is unconstitutional.

On April 21, a Superior Court judge ruled the institute was a legitimate state agency. But if opponents continue to contest the agency in court, they could hold up the institute's financing until at least next year.

Elsewhere, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, announced Thursday that he is diverting $5 million from the state budget for stem cell research, despite repeated objections from state legislators.

"Investing in research that can save lives and prevent serious illnesses is more than a sound public health strategy, it's our moral obligation," he said.

The money will come out of administrative funds already set aside for the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Blagojevich said.

Last year Blagojevich used an executive order to spend $10 million for stem cell research, a move that caught many state lawmakers off guard. Illinois lawmakers have previously voted against stem cell research, and this spring they did not take up the governor's proposal for $100 million in funding over five years.

Legislators of both political parties criticized his move Thursday.

"Any time this happens, it's not good for the process when you circumvent the legislative body and the voice of the people," said Democratic Rep. John Bradley.

Embryonic stem cells are building blocks that turn into different types of tissue. Scientists hope to use them someday to regenerate damaged organs or other body parts and cure diseases. Some oppose such research because it entails the destruction of human embryos.

© 2006 The Associated Press