In June 2012, California voters will be asked to weigh in on a ballot measure that would raise $855 million in new taxes with the intention of funding cancer research programs. At first blush it would appear to be a well-intended effort to support cancer research but a closer look reveals that the so-called California Cancer Research Act bears a troubling similarity to previous well-meaning and ambitious ballot initiatives that have come up far short, leaving taxpayers with ineffective government bureaucracies and runaway costs.

The Stem Cell Research Project has yet to deliver on its promises from the taxpayer-funded bond. In July, the San Jose Mercury News noted after seven years, “Californians have yet to see any tangible evidence that their investment is producing the cures that were also promised.”

Then there is the example, the California High Speed Rail Authority approved in 2008 that created and authorized nearly $10 billion in government funds to construct a bullet train in California. The CHSRA board, charged with overseeing the project, was created as part of the proposition and isn’t accountable to any government authority.

Recently, the Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report that the CHSRA’s much-ballyhooed revised “realistic” plan fails to meet the requirements of Prop 1A, the measure passed by voters to provide seed money for the project.

In testimony to an Assembly oversight committee, the LAO warned that simply starting construction on the rail line could amount to a $6 billion waste of tax funds at the expense of social services, education and other transportation projects.  And this report comes on the heels of the CHSRA announcing that the estimated cost of the program had doubled to nearly $100 billion in the three short years since voters approved the initial bonds.

California’s voter-approved high speed rail project isn’t just headed in the wrong direction – it’s a train wreck before it even leaves the station. But it does serve as a cautionary tale of pie-in-the-sky ballot box promises that not only come up short but also could end up costing taxpayers dearly.

Under the shadow of these past examples of ballot measures that have yet to achieve what was promised or, in the case of high speed rail, been labeled an outright boondoggle by impartial observers comes the California Cancer Research Act.  If approved, it would create a new $855 million government program that would be headed by a board with six political appointees who, like the HSRA board, would not be accountable to the legislature, the governor or the taxpayers who would be footing the bill.

While curing disease is everyone’s concern, when the state government is running a multi-billion dollar deficit, the focus should be on core state functions and not creating another unaccountable bureaucracy.