KANSAS CITY — A proposed sales tax increase to support medical research in Jackson County is being touted as a way to promote life-saving scientific discoveries and raise the region's research profile.
But even before Jackson County legislators voted last week to put the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot, critics have started to question how the money would be spent and whether it should be raised through county government, The Kansas City Star reports.
The 20-year, half-cent sales tax increase would raise a total of $800 million — $40 million annually — for what's known as translational research. The term refers to finding practical applications for scientific findings.
The money would be funneled through a new Jackson County Institute for Translational Medicine, which is a collaboration of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, Saint Luke's Health System and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.
Children's Mercy Hospital would get half the money raised, minus the cost of collecting the tax and conducting annual audits. St. Luke's Hospital and the University of Missouri-Kansas City would each get nearly 20 percent or roughly $8 million each per year. The remaining 10 percent would go "to further the economic development initiatives of the institute," such as funding training programs at the Metropolitan Community Colleges.
The measure has the backing of civic leaders and the three institutions that would share the bulk of the tax proceeds. The three main beneficiaries would hire scientists and furnish them with laboratories, equipment and support staff. The goal is to develop cures, treatments and procedures that would improve health care and spur business development.
Supporters say direct and indirect benefits over the first decade would total $600 million.
"Something like this has an enormous potential for return" on the investment, said Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, a Democrat.
But Republican Bob Spence of Lee's Summit said that, even as a cancer survivor who knows the value of medical research, he questioned whether medical research should be a function of county government.
"I've never had a vote since I've sat on this body where I've had so much consternation," he said.
A spokesman for the campaign committee, the Committee for Research, Treatment and Cures, said more than $1 million will be spent to convince voters to pass the tax. A Missouri Ethics Commission filing shows that about $110,000 has been raised so far, with all but $10,000 of that coming from The Civic Council of Greater Kansas City. The council is made up of CEOs from the largest companies in the Kansas City area.
Meanwhile, commercials urging a "no" vote already have started appearing. Brad Bradshaw, a lawyer and physician from Springfield who is funding a group that is sponsoring the ads, said he opposes the tax because it wouldn't collect enough money to make much of an impact on curing diseases such as cancer. Bradshaw has been working on a proposal for a statewide medical research tax he had hoped to put on the ballot in 2016.
"They're not going to have a cakewalk," he said. "It's a bad tax."