When Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes proposed creating a $1 billion state-funded institute for stem cell research modeled on a recent initiative in California, he was thinking about the economic development implications as well as the opportunity to advance clinical science.
Hynes noted that officials in California, which recently approved a $3 billion bond issue for stem cell research, estimated that state's initiative would leverage up to $4.4 billion in private-sector investment and create between 5,000 and 22,000 jobs.
When he announced his own plan late last month, Hynes said he was, "surrounded by the most prominent researchers and physicians in the community that can benefit from this." On the list was a Who's Who of physician leaders from Illinois healthcare institutions, including department heads or clinical research leaders from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Children's Memorial Hospital and Rush University Medical Center.
"They are thrilled with the prospect that this research can flourish her in Illinois," Hynes said.
Under Illinois plan, money to fund the research would come from the proceeds of $100 million 25-year bonds issued each year over 10 years. The plan calls for legislation to be presented next year to the Illinois General Assembly that would place the stem cell research institute and its funding mechanism on the ballot for a referendum vote in November 2006, Hynes said.
But Illinois plastic surgeons are less than thrilled with the plan, which calls for bond payments to be made from the proceeds of a 6% tax on charges for elective plastic surgery procedures performed in the state.
Hynes, a Democrat who in the spring lost in a primary race for U.S. Senate to fellow Democrat Barack Obama, said he estimates more than $250 million was spent on elective cosmetic surgery procedures in Illinois last year, enough to generate $15 million in taxes the first year. Since 1997, the number of elective procedures has grown 25% per year, he said, while the bond retirement schedule is based on a projection of 20% annual growth.
Hynes said he singled out elective plastic surgery to bear the tax burden for three reasons: "It is health-related. Secondly, because it's elective. And third, because it is a very progressive tax. I don't want to say only wealthy people are undergoing those procedures, but it certainly is more common among those with means."
Scott Spear, M.D., president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, based in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Ill., called the tax plan "distressing on many levels" in a news release. It discriminates against women, who account for 86% of procedures, and, according to Spear, it puts the government and medicine on a slippery slope.
"It's frightening to think that lawmakers now feel entitled to tax patients who choose or need surgery," he said. "The idea that the Legislature will decide whose operating is politically acceptable and whose deserves to be taxed is scary. What's next, a tax on bariatric, lasik or orthopedic procedures based on the state's, rather than a physician's, interpretation of (what is) 'medically necessary.'"
The Illinois Senate recently defeated legislation endorsing embryonic stem cell research, garnering only 28 of 30 votes needed for passage, with most Republicans voting against the measure and most Democrats voting for it, Hynes said, but with a couple of crossovers on both sides.
Hynes said he is optimistic about his plan's chances for generating bipartisan legislative support, citing House minority leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) as " a passionate supporter of stem cell research" and the fact that the voters, and not the legislators themselves, will be making the final decision.
"I believe that we will be given the opportunity to educate the public and legislators about what stem cell research involves," he said. "We will win support from some legislators who are now opposed to stem cell research."
Hynes said he had a "very friendly" telephone conversation with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and that the governor, a Democrat, was "complimenting the plan in terms of its boldness and creativity."
"He has been supportive of stem cell research," Hynes said. "He has not given his position on supporting the plastic surgery tax. I'm optimistic, but only he can speak on those issues."
No one in Blagojevich's office was available for comment at deadline.