Sales tax proposition could increase funding for UC cancer research

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A proposition to raise the sales tax on cigarettes may generate millions in new tax revenue, which could support currently underfunded cancer research at the University of California and other colleges.

Proposition 29, also known as the California Cancer Research Act, is slated to appear on the June 5 presidential primary state ballot and calls for a $1 sales tax increase per pack of cigarettes. A Feb. 6 report authored by professor Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UC San Francisco, indicates that the proposition would generate about 12,000 jobs and close to $855 million in new tax revenue to fund cancer- and tobacco-related research and smoking prevention programs.

“It’ll have a direct impact on UC Berkeley and UCSF because there will be a lot of money put into research, and some part of that will be done at the University of California and at UCSF,” Glantz said.

The proposition would earmark 60 percent of its generated funds toward cancer research and other tobacco-related diseases. These funds would be distributed by a committee, which includes the chancellors of UC Berkeley, UCSF and UC Santa Cruz, according to the bill.

However, Don Perata, co-chair of the campaign for the proposition and former president Pro Tem of the California State Senate, said he expects the chancellors will appoint representatives from their campuses to sit on the committee. UC committee members will not participate in discussions involving UC funding to prevent a conflict of interest, according to UC spokesperson Shelly Meron.

Perata said he supports UC involvement in the committee because he has seen funding for cancer research in California dwindle and wants to provide funding opportunities for UC researchers.

Astar Winoto, director of the Cancer Research Laboratory at UC Berkeley, said the research funding generated by the passage of the act would come at a time when federal funding — one of the main sources of grants for cancer research — is being deeply cut in a tight economy.

“Combined with the severe cuts from the state, it has been very difficult to do cancer research as well as maintaining and operating facilities to support cancer research at Berkeley,” Winoto said in an email.

According to Winoto, the institute has dropped from funding the top 15 percent of grant requests in 2010 to funding only 7 percent of the requests currently.

The proposition was endorsed by the UC Board of Regents in September 2011, and Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong organization also endorsed it on Feb. 15.

However, the proposition’s opponents have expressed concerns about the viability of the proposition’s funding and the structure of the funding committee.

David Kline, spokesperson for the California Taxpayers Association, said the organization opposes the act because it draws on a declining revenue source since fewer people in California currently smoke.

“We don’t think it makes sense to create a new body of political appointees to oversee this money when the money coming in simply won’t be enough to keep the program going,” Kline said. “The fact that they are all political appointees raises the issue of whether there will be more politics involved than hard science or real budgetary expertise.”

Jamie Applegate covers higher education.