New Jersey voters rejected a ballot referendum during state elections Tuesday that would have approved the borrowing of $450 million to support stem cell research.
Fifty-four percent of voters rejected the referendum, which would have provided funding for research using embryonic stem cells over the next 10 years.
This is the first instance in 17 years that voters in New Jersey have rejected a statewide ballot question, called a "public question," according to The New York Times.
The defeat of the referendum will likely have an impact on University research programs, which have benefited greatly from stem cell research funding since then-Gov. James McGreevey signed a bill in 2004 that legalized stem cell research in the state.
"I obviously don't agree with this decision," molecular biology major Kristen Anderson '08 said in an email. "The potential benefits of stem cell research to human life drastically outweigh any ethical concerns in my opinion, and I think that this decision shows that the public doesn't really understand the concept of stem cell research."
Anderson has been working with embryonic stem cells in mice as research for her senior thesis.
The New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology awarded $5 million in grants to 17 researchers in late 2005, including three that were affiliated with the University. Former researcher Kateri Moore, former professor Ihor Lemischka and biology professor Thomas Shenk received $300,000 each to further their research.
In 2005, former University President Harold Shapiro GS '64 was named the overseer of stem cell research in New Jersey. Then-acting governor Richard Codey was a vocal advocate of stem cell research, arguing that New Jersey must remain competitive amongst other states in the development of stem cell research.
President Bush prohibited the use of federal funds to support stem cell research on any new stem cell lines in 2001. As of 2006, 26 states, including Pennsylvania, have imposed restrictions on stem cell research.
The New Jersey referendum rejection serves as a defeat for Gov. Jon Corzine, who campaigned heavily for the initiative this year, spending $200,000 of his own money on ads for the proposal, according to the Associated Press. Corzine has already committed $270 million of state funds to finance stem cell research and facilities this year.
Corzine had argued that increased research would lead to more jobs and increased corporate tax revenue.
Opponents of the ballot referendum argued that borrowing $450 million to finance the proposed research increases would worsen New Jersey's deficit, currently one of the highest state deficits in the nation. Corzine emphasized the need to control state spending during his 2005 gubernatorial campaign.
Other challengers of the referendum opposed the additional research funding because they consider embryonic cells to be human life.
Corzine's administration has said the rejection is a result of low voter turnout but stressed that it remains hopeful New Jersey can still provide large amounts of state funding for stem cell research.
"Walk first, then run," Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said in an interview yesterday with the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
New Jersey voters also weighed in on three additional ballot referenda Tuesday. Voters rejected a proposition to allocate additional funds to property tax rebates but approved a bond issuance of $200 million to support historic and farmland preservation . Voters also approved a constitutional amendment redefining a voting restriction rule on "insane" citizens to refer to people with "cognitive disabilities."
In other states, voters approved plans to provide funding for scientific research. Texas voters approved $3 billion toward cancer research, and voters in Maine supported a proposal to designate $134 million in bonds for several state initiatives, including research and development.
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