California Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a bill that would have added a $1 fee to the cost of a moving traffic violation in order to fund spinal-cord research. California would have joined eight other states that use a similar method to fund research and defend the fee because auto accidents are the number one cause for spinal cord injuries. However, the Los Angeles Times reports that the argument for the bill is “well-meaning but misguided,” and states that increased traffic fines should instead pay for underfunded basic services.
In 2000, a law was passed to fund spinal injury paralysis research through California’s general fund. While the law was in place for 11 years, over 300 scientists were supported through a generated fund of $15.4 million. With a meltdown in the budget, state officials took away the funds for research.
Roman Reed, who was paralyzed 18 years ago during a college football game, has played a major role in finding ways to support research again. Last year, Reed helped push for a $3 surcharge on moving traffic violations, but the bill died in Sacramento. Still determined, Reed focused on a new effort this year, and with the help of Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, they created Assembly Bill 1657, which would add $1 to every moving traffic violation and would create $3.4 million a year to help support research.
This new funding could help with research on using stem cells for spinal cord injuries. Hans Keirstead at UC Irvine is a top California scientist who could continue conducting two important experiments. One focuses on finding a cure for the number-one infant killer in the world, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which guarantees affected infants will die by the age of five. The other deals with robotics and a skullcap that measures the signals the brain sends.
Opponents to the bill argue that California’s budget problems are severe, and outside interests cannot look to state taxes, fees and fines to fund their projects. The Press Enterprise explained that state officials should not pile new fees, large or small, onto already overloaded traffic fines to “fund unrelated pet causes.” Opponents believe that any increase in traffic fines should pay for struggling government services that are underfunded. California’s 2004 state-bond-funded stem cell research produced “little benefit” and was the “wrong road,” according to the LA Times.
Officials and other opponents believe that states should fund research through foundations, or sometimes, federal matching grants. Reed, however, points out that they’re not taking money from the general fund; this would be money the general fund would never have. Despite opposition to the bill, Reed holds firm with his efforts: “We’re talking pennies on the dollar to give people hope. What’s better than that? What’s better than giving people the hope that they can stand up from their chairs?”