O'Malley vows stem cell boost

As governor, he says, he would increase funds for research by $10 million

Maryland Votes 2006

July 21, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley vowed to increase state funding next year for stem cell research by $10 million if elected governor, positioning himself on an issue that has received broad support from Marylanders of both political parties.

Joined by several state residents who have Parkinson's disease, O'Malley, a Democrat, said his administration would increase funding for stem cell research to $25 million in the next fiscal year, more than the amount approved this spring by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.

"We have an obligation, we have a responsibility, we have an opportunity as Americans and particularly as Marylanders ... home to some of the world's best science and best know-how in terms of the healing sciences and life sciences, to accept this responsibility and to grasp this opportunity and move forward," O'Malley said.

A day earlier, President Bush used the first veto of his administration to reject a measure that would have expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Bush has banned federal research into new embryonic stem cell lines, arguing that destroying embryos is akin to murder.

In response to federal restrictions, several states, including Maryland, California and Illinois, have earmarked state funds for the research.

A Maryland stem cell research bill died in 2005 under the threat of a Republican-led filibuster. But during this year's legislative session, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who is seeking re-election, proposed $20 million for stem cell research and an additional $12.5 million to build a research center. He opposed separate Democratic-sponsored legislation to create a commission to administer the grants, which many lawmakers said was necessary so that funding could be directed toward embryonic studies.

Ehrlich ultimately signed the legislation, however, and the Assembly's budget included $15 million in stem cell funding.

Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman, argued that if O'Malley had been truly interested in the issue, he would have pushed the legislature to increase its funding this year.

"The governor proposed $33.5 million for this fiscal year, and the legislature cut that," Fawell said. "The governor, without question, had the most ambitious stem cell research plan on the table."

States have funded stem cell research at varying levels, with California expected to spend $3 billion over the next decade and other states, such as Connecticut, planning to spend $10 million annually. Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich directed an additional $5 million yesterday for stem cell funding, bringing that state's total outlay to $15 million.

Proponents say that embryonic stem cells, which can take on the properties of various cells throughout the body, could provide treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. A November poll for The Sun found that 60 percent of likely voters favor state funding for the science. Religious conservatives in particular condemn the destruction of human embryos, and prefer research be directed at adult stem cells or blood collected from umbilical cords.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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