The Governor of California has just dealt a devastating blow to paralysis cure research.
Yesterday afternoon, driving home after a trip to Sacramento to talk to Secretary of Health Diana Dooley, who was very supportive about the research, I received a phone call on my cell. It was from Jeff Barbosa, legislative director to Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski.
I pulled off the road to take the call.
Governor Jerry Brown had vetoed our paralysis cure research funding bill, AB 1657 (Wieckowski, D-Fremont) which would have added one dollar to every traffic ticket in California. That money would have funded the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research program. Based on last year's traffic tickets, it could have meant $3 million dollars a year.
A year of effort. Dozens of trips to Sacramento. Thousands of hours of writing, editorializing, and asking favors of support from everybody we knew or could contact.
But the Governor vetoed the bill.
Who are the winners from such a decision? It is hard to believe anyone could be happy about the destruction of a medical research program.
But there is an anti-science wing of the Republican party. They oppose advanced stem cell research on ideological grounds. While the vast majority of our research had nothing to do with stem cells at all, four projects (of 129) in "Roman's law" did use some of the Bush-approved embryonic stem cell lines.
Anti-research Republicans like Tony Strickland (R-CA) had vocally opposed our bill, just as he has always tried to block embryonic stem cell research. He even voted against the very first bill in the nation to legalize stem cell research(SB 253, by Deborah Ortiz) which passed in California.
Strickland, by the way, is up for re-election, against a strong (and stem cell supporting) Democrat, Dr. Ami Bera. If you live in their district, or just want to support someone who stands up for research, check out Ami Bera. I recommend Ami Bera strongly.
Who lost? America's 5.6 million paralyzed citizens -- and anyone who wants to reduce the National Debt. Being paralyzed is expensive. Since most people do not have a couple million dollars lying around for extra medical expenses, paralyzed people are often forced to seek help from government programs, which of course drives up the debt.
And the families? All too often, they are the caregivers, exhausting themselves in the endless labor of providing for a paralyzed loved one; their backs ache from continual lifting, and there is no rest, always more chores: helping a paralytic use the restroom may take two hours.
Why did Jerry Brown do it? He stood by his beliefs. He does not approve of fee-based government, believing programs should be paid for by the General Fund, not traffic tickets, already so expensive a poor person may not be able to pay them at all.
I understand that position, and agree with it.
But our program was funded by the General Fund, for $1.5 million a year.
Then, two years ago, due to the economy, our funding was removed.
We either had to find a new way to pay for the program, or watch it die.
We asked the legislature for a $3 add-on to traffic tickets, money for spinal research, a system used by eight other states. Our bill advanced as far as the Appropriations Committee, and then was defeated.
This year, we tried again, reducing our "ask" from three dollars to just one ($1), the smallest increase allowed by law. (I actually requested fifty cents, but was told that was legally too little.)
We worked our way through all the relevant committees, one by one, with essentially zero Republican support. (Two Republicans sided with us, total.) Think what that means. We had to convince virtually every Democrat, one by one, to side with us.
We did it. We passed the Assembly, passed the Senate; AB 1657 was sent to the Governor --
-- and he killed it.
Important: I do not hold a grudge against Jerry Brown. He has an impossible task to perform. There is not enough money in the General Fund. That is not his fault, and it is the reason our program's original funding was removed.
Here is the problem.
Republicans have gamed the system. It has become virtually impossible to raise taxes on the rich. In California, Proposition 13, (a citizen's initiative funded by anti-tax groups), made it illegal to raise taxes without a 2/3 majority. Since virtually all Republicans sign a no-new-taxes pledge, the needed 2/3 majority is virtually impossible to achieve. This must change.
I strongly support Governor Brown's tax increase on upper-income Californians. If programs like ours, or school budget increases, or anything at all progressive to have a chance, taxes on the wealthy must go up.
So. Is the small but powerful Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act a thing of the past?
Roman in his wheelchair and I on my aching old feet will be back in Sacramento, in January, just as soon as the new session opens.
We'll bring another bill forward, to fund spinal cord injury research for cure.
Hopefully we can persuade Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) to once more lead the charge.
We will shamelessly harass our friends again, hundreds of caring individuals and groups who wrote letters and made phone calls on behalf of research for cure.
We will knock on every legislator's door, Democrat or Republican, asking their support. There was a time when Republicans supported our program overwhelmingly -- let us hope those better days return, after the election.
To paraphrase another California Governor:
"We'll be back!"