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Archive for August, 2013

Looks like I’m going to have quite a bit of company in opposing the proposed half-cent sales tax for medical research.

The Star’s Yael Abouhalkah reported yesterday that The League of Women Voters in Kansas City/Jackson/Clay/Platte counties will oppose the tax.

Abouhalkah wrote:

In an interview, president Linda Vogel Smith said the league primarily opposed using a regressive sales tax to pay for the research. She said the league thought the medical groups could get money from other sources, and public revenue should be used for “local infrastructure needs.”

That’s a heck of a blow to the tax’s prospects for passage.

The Civic Council, with its rush-job tactics and speculative foray, has run afoul of the most important women’s group in the area.

Already, by my unofficial reckoning, we’ve got about 50 percent of  the electorate — women –against the measure.

I guess the Civic Council will be calling on all manly men to stand up for translational medical research to the tune of $40 million to $50 million a year for 20 years.

(Sorry, I don’t have time to explain what translational medical research is; I’ll leave that up to the proponents.)

Guys tend to like big numbers, and we’ll just have to see if they respond well to the prospect of spending $1 billion on a shaky proposition over the next 20 years.

Another bad omen, also laid out in Abhoulkah’s story, was that the chairman of the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance questioned moving ahead with the medical research tax while Jackson County’s commuter rail idea is still pending.

Kite Singleton, a well-known, retired architect, said his group did not specifically oppose the sales-tax proposal, but he stated, “This is not a time to redirect our community’s focus to another interest,” the alliance release said.

Until earlier this year, Jackson county Executive Mike Sanders had been pushing for a sales-tax proposal to build a commuter rail system. For some reason, he dropped that and now has jumped on the Civic Council bandwagon.

He probably reckons that his prospects of attaining higher office are better if he plays ball with the Civic Council and the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas city, which also has endorsed the medical-research tax.

As most of you know, I registered an opposing committee, Committee to Stop a Bad Cure, on Tuesday.

Another registered opposition group (the first to file, actually) is called Citizens for Responsible Research. It is led by a personal-injury lawyer named Brad Bradshaw, who has several offices around the state. The Star has said he is based in Springfield. Bradshaw, who is also a physician, has contributed $50,000 to his campaign committee, Dave Helling reported today on The Star’s web site.

Bradshaw favors some sort of statewide tax to support medical research, and the Civic Council Sales Tax could upset his apple cart.

As of today, the Civic Council’s bandwagon seems to be losing riders, while organized opposition is mushrooming.

Now, if we can just get the Marching Cobras on our side, we’ll have a loud and energetic run-up to the election.

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I’ve been involved in a lot of political activity during my life. As a reporter at The Star, I covered many candidate and issue campaigns. Since retiring in 2006, I have done volunteer work for, and contributed financially to, several candidates, including Mike Burke, Jim Glover and an old and dear friend and idol, Charlie Wheeler.

But I had never formed a campaign committee expressly to campaign for or against a particular candidate or issue.

Until yesterday.

After jumping through the required, legal hoops — registering the committee with the Secretary of State’s office and opening a bank account (Country Club Bank) — I filed a Statement of Committee Organization with the Jackson County Election Board in Independence.

The Committee to Stop a Bad Cure has money in the bank — I contributed a whopping $500 — and is raring for action.

The goal? To help defeat what I have dubbed the Civic Council Sales Tax, a proposed half-cent sales tax for translational medical research. The proposal will be on the Nov. 5 ballot; it is the only issue on the ballot throughout Jackson County.

no-red-14956958You’re going to hear me say this over and over because it is so important: The Civic Council consists of the c.e.o.’s of the Kansas City area’s leading companies. The tax proposal amounts to the rich trying to foist on taxpayers the cost of trying to make Jackson County a leader in translational medical research…Translational research essentially amounts to converting treatment and pharmaceutical advances into business ventures.

In my opinion, private funds should pay for most or all of a speculative venture like this. But the Civic Council, apparently unable to raise funds privately, pulled an ambush: They plunked their idea for a countywide tax on the Jackson County Legislature early this months, three weeks before the deadline for putting a measure on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The Legislature, under great pressure from the bigwigs, voted 7-2 Monday to put the measure on the ballot, with precious little opportunity for public discussion and consideration of the proposal before rushing pell mell to a public vote.

***

Late yesterday afternoon, I alerted The Star and the four main local TV stations about the committee filing. Within 10 minutes, an assignment editor from KSHB-TV, the NBC affiliate, was on the line asking if a cameraman could come by my house and do an interview.

A couple of hours later, I was sitting on the patio with a camera pointed at me, and less than halfway through the 10 o’clock news, voila, I was on the air asserting that the taxpayers should not have to pay the $800 million to $1 billion ($40 million to $50 million a year for 20 years) that civic leaders think it will take to make Jackson County a leader in translational medical research.

The committee name, Committee to Stop a Bad Cure, is a counterpoint to the proponents’ committee, the Committee for Research, Treatment and Cures. As we all know, though, it’s really the committee to support the Civic Council Sales Tax.

The business community intends to spend at least $1 million on the sales tax campaign. The committee already has $100,000 in the bank. Among other things, they have already bought off all of the area’s leading professional political consultants — Pat Gray, Pat O’Neill, Steve Glorioso and Jeff Roe. These days, you have to cut all those guys in on the deal up front or you risk the chance of an opposing committee hiring them.

(Don’t worry, the Committee to Stop a Bad Cure has no intention of paying for political consulting services.)

As is always the case in campaigns, money will be hard to beat. But in this case, I think the proponents face a long, hard slog.

Coming out of the recession, with many people unemployed and underemployed, this is a terrible time to put a measure like this on the ballot. I think resistance to any proposed tax increase would be strong. But this one, with its nebulous goals and sky-high price tag, is going to be greeted with tremendous skepticism.

Every person, except one, whom I have talked with about the tax proposal has said they don’t like it…The friend I talked to who favors it, understandably, is a pediatric oncologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital…CMH is one of the three main institutions, along with St. Luke’s and UMKC, that would receive the most funds from the tax proceeds.

***

For me, it’s a day to celebrate, as well as get down to the business of running a campaign committee.

The committee will have a web site — stopabadcure.com — (it’s not up yet but I’ve registered the domain), and I plan to have yard signs and other campaign paraphernalia, such as buttons and flyers.

I’m willing to put several thousand dollars of my own money in this effort, and I’m hoping to attract contributions from others who see this like I do.

Campaign headquarters will be Fitzpatrick manor, 1209 W. 64th Terrace, KCMO, 64113. Drop by, if you’d like, or call me at (816) 668-0156.

Finally — and here’s the hard part of the preacher’s work — if you would like to contribute financially, send checks to Committee to Stop a Bad Cure, care of my address.

I guarantee you one thing: All contributions will be put to good use.

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Let the battle begin.

In the wake of the Jackson County Legislature’s action Monday to put a proposed half-cent, Civic Council Sales Tax on the Nov. 5 ballot, the civic bigwigs are now going to be under tremendous pressure to make a case for a $40-million-dollar-a-year sales-tax increase to benefit something called “translational medical research.”

As I said last week, I think this is not a timely idea, and I will actively oppose it.

red, white, blueThis will be the only issue on the ballot in all parts of Jackson County, and it will cost county taxpayers about $1 million to conduct what amounts to a special, one-issue election. On Monday, as a concession to the county, the proponents agreed to reimburse the county for the $1 million — but ONLY IF THE MEASURE PASSES. If it loses — which I think is very likely to happen — taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.

Are you angry yet?

Here’s something else to consider: The Civic Council, consisting of the c.e.o.’s of the areas largest companies, plunked this proposal on the Legislature just three weeks ago and pushed the Legislature to act by today’s deadline for placing issues on the Nov. 5 ballot. Yesterday afternoon, I ran into a well-respected, high-profile lawyer who is very attuned to political issues, and he called the measure “a rush to madness.”   

My main objections to the tax proposal are that it:

:: Is not well thought out.

:: Is based entirely on the speculative premise that “rock star researchers” will come up with pharmaceutical and other medical advances that can quickly be turned into money-generating businesses and ventures.

:: Comes at a time when many people, particularly lower-income folks, already are suffering financial distress.

:: Is a regressive tax, that is, it disproportionately hits those with lower incomes.  (Example: If a person with an annual income of $20,000 pays $2,000 in sales taxes per year, the tax amounts to 10 percent of his or her income. If a person with an annual income of $100,000 pays $2,000 in sales taxes, the tax amounts to 2 percent of his or her income.)

:: Comes at a time we need to rein in health-care costs, not fuel the fire.

***

Under a Memorandum of Understanding among the parties involved in the tax agreement, here’s how the proceeds would be divvied up:

:: 1 percent of the money — about $400,000 a year — would be paid to the state to collect the tax.

:: About $1 million a year (up to 2.5 percent of $39.6 million — the amount left after deducting the state’s fee) —  would be allocated for annual performance and fiscal audits.

:: The remaining $38.6 million in annual proceeds would be distributed as follows: 50 percent for Children’s Mercy Hospitals and clinics; 20 percent for the St. Luke’s Health System; 20 percent for UMKC; and 10 percent would go “to further economic development initiatives” of a newly created Translational Medicine Institute of Jackson County.

The last category — economic development initiatives — is particularly hazy and troublesome. What kind of economic development issues? How would those initiatives be monitored?

***  

About 75 people attended Monday’s meeting at the courthouse annex. Although the outcome was a foregone conclusion, an air of anticipation and excitement pervaded the ground-floor legislative chamber.

That’s because everyone knows that this is a dicey issue that is sure to be hotly contested.

Before the vote, the Legislature approved some amendments to the two-page Memorandum of Understanding.

One change would add the county as a party to the memorandum. Previously, the signatories were Children’s Mercy Hospital, UMKC, Saint Luke’s Health System and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.

The non-profit life sciences institute was founded primarily by the Civic Council in 2000. Its goal, according to its web site, is to “lead the recognized transformation of the Kansas City region into a nationally recognized center of excellence in life sciences research, development and commercialization.”

In its initial business plan the life sciences institute set a goal of raising $500 million in annual research expenditures at the end of ten years. $500 million a year?

I don’t know if that’s a mistake or not, but I’m pretty sure the institute has had a lot of difficulty attaining lift-off. (I had never heard of it until yesterday.) Facing that reality, someone at the Civic Council probably came up with the bright idea of trying to foist it on taxpayers.

As proposed, the tax would be levied for 20 years and would generate, with inflation, probably about $1 billion. And, of course, in about 2033, it would be back up for renewal.

Hello, grandkids (God willing). How do you like the lug we left you?

***

The Legislature voted 7-2 to proceed with the ballot issue. The legislators who voted “yes” were Fred Arbanas, Scott Burnett, Theresa Garza-Ruiz, Dan Tarwater, James Tindall, Dennis Waits and Crystal Williams.

Fred_Arbanas

Arbanas

Scott_Burnett

Burnett

Dan_Tarwater

Tarwater

James_Tindall

Tindall

Theresa_Garza_Ruiz

Garza Ruiz

Dennis_Waits

Waits

Crystal_Williams

Williams

Exhibiting a distinct lack of enthusiasm, none of the seven made a stirring speech or offered inspiring words about why this tax would be good for Jackson County.

Two legislators voted “no.”

Bob Spence cast one of the “no” votes. Spence said he thought county government already had enough on its plate, including providing law enforcement, maintaining roads and bridges and tending to the parks in unincorporated Jackson County.

Greg_Grounds

Grounds

The other dissenter, oddly, was legislative chairman Greg Grounds, of Blue Springs, an original sponsor of the enabling legislation.

Grounds told the audience that his main objection was that county taxpayers would be stuck with the election tab, if the measure failed at the polls.

Bob_Spence

Spence

Another factor in his capitulation, almost surely, is that Blue Springs residents will vote in November on a proposed half-cent sales tax for city parks.

I think I can say this with great assurance: The Civic Council Sales Tax will go down in flames in Blue Springs.

***

After the meeting, I had a nice chat with Arbanas, who has been on the Legislature since the old three-judge administrative court system went by the wayside in 1973. I got to know Arbanas, a former Kansas City Chiefs tight end, in 1972 because I covered Jackson County for The Star from 1971 to 1978. It was my first “beat” assignment during my 35-year-plus career with the paper.

It was easy to tell that Arbanas was skeptical about the tax, even though he voted to put it on the ballot.

“We’ve got a big hurdle,” he told Pete Levi, former president of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, when Levi walked up to thank him for his vote. “It’s going to be extremely tough,”

I asked Arbanas if he thought voter resistance to the proposal would be significant.

“Resistance to any tax at all at this point is tremendous,” he said.

Like I said, let the battle begin.

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Lobsterfest 2013

Later today, the Jackson County Legislature will do its lap dog act and vote to put on the Nov. 5 ballot a proposed half-cent sales tax for medical research. We’ve just gotta beat Kansas to the cure for cancer, you know…And God forbid that we let down the group behind the proposed tax — the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, consisting of the c.e.o.’s of the area’s major businesses.

More about that soon, but in the meantime here are some photos from the fourth annual Lobsterfest, held Saturday night atop the Cosentino’s parking garage in the Power & Light District.

More than 200 people attended the event, which is a benefit for the Children’s Mercy Hospitals and clinics.

(The photos are courtesy of my good friend Jim Gottsch.)

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This park-like setting is owned by the Cordish Company, developer of the P&L District.

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In the shadow of the H&R Block headquarters building

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And One Kansas City Place

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Long live the lobster

2013-08-24 19.41.09

The most beautiful dish at the party

2013-08-24 17.59.22

Our group: Jim Gottsch, Julie Koppen, Donetta Shaw (hat), Bill Molini, Patty Fitzpatrick, Cindy Molini, Dr. Maxine Hetherington, an oncologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital, and a blogger in plaid trousers

2013-08-24 20.36.18

Fight to the finish

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I hate to be the turd in the punch bowl of Kansas City civic leaders, but I think their push for a 20-year, half-cent sales tax to go toward medical research is a bad idea right now.

Civic and educational leaders, including Donald J. Hall Sr. of Hallmark Cards and UMKC chancellor Leo Morton, are urging the Jackson County Legislature to approve a measure for the Nov. 5 ballot that would raise the sales tax in Kansas City, Jackson County, to almost 9 percent.

The legislature could vote on the measure at its meeting next Monday. The legislature has until the end of the month — a week from Saturday — to approve the measure.

Kansas City area residents first learned about this on Aug. 8, when The Star’s Mike Hendricks and Alan Bavley had a front-page story, laying out the details.

In a nutshell, the tax would generate about $40 million a year. Half the proceeds would go to Children’s Mercy Hospital; St. Luke’s Health System and UMKC would each get 20 percent; and the remaining 10 percent — $400,000 a year — “would go to further economic initiatives, such as helping train research assistants at the Metropolitan Community Colleges,” according to The Star.

A couple of the big selling points that proponents will harp on are that:

:: The bulk of the money will go toward “translational research,” which, essentially, means “translating” scientific discoveries into drugs, procedures and devices that will quickly help patients.

:: This is an opportunity “to bring in rock star researchers who can develop a product that can be turned into a start-up company,” according to a researcher whom The Star’s story quoted.

***

no-red-14956958This is going to be a well-planned and well-financed campaign. Political consultant Steve Glorioso has been hired, probably along with running mate Pat Gray, to sell the campaign to the public. The Civic Council (consisting of the chief executives of the largest companies in the area) and the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City will provide the muscle and money.

From here on out, I’m just going to call this the Civic Council Sales Tax.

The Civic Council already has this proposal moving down the tracks, and it’s going to be hard to stop. The only way it’s going to be defeated is if a majority of voters take a look at it and, like me, scratch their heads and say, “Why?”

***

Here are some of the reasons I think the Civic Council Sales Tax is a bad idea at this time.

1) At something like 8.3 or 8.4 percent in Kansas City, Jackson County, the sales tax is plenty high. It’s a regressive tax, which disproportionately hits people with lower incomes. As a Kansas City resident named Don Biggs said in an Aug. 20 letter to the editor: “Enough is enough.”

2) The ballot language will say the tax would be imposed for 20 years, but fat chance of it ending then. Jackson County’s quarter-cent COMBAT tax (Community Backed Anti-drug Tax), initially approved in 1989, was to be collected for seven years. Voters re-approved it in 1996, 2003 and 2009…Once enacted, sales taxes tend to become as stationary as redwoods in California.

3) The county would be levying and collecting this tax. Almost any tax that comes through Jackson County is, to me, suspect. (COMBAT?) Also, this is the same county that thoroughly botched the property reappraisal process this year and had to pull the plug on increased (and erroneous) property assessments for thousands and thousands of homeowners. The debacle cost the assessment director his job. County Executive Mike Sanders got off without too much egg on his face, partly because this was the first big, embarrassing mistake the county made on his watch. (By the way, Sanders is a big proponent of the Civic Council Sales Tax.)

4) Kansas City already has one humongous health-care research institution, the Stowers Institute on Volker Boulevard. They’ve got a bunch of “rock star researchers” over there, but I sure haven’t heard about any revolutionary, make-you-stand-on-your-head discoveries that have changed the course of medicine.

5) I would bet that a majority of Civic Council members and Chamber of Commerce board members Kansas residents. In a sense, they want to impose the tax on Missouri residents. Do we want Kansans, who enjoy the city’s major cultural and sporting facilities virtually tax free, calling the shots on our side of the line?

6) When I look at the sky-high medical-service charges that go through my Medicare account and my Blue Cross/Blue Shield supplemental plan, I think that the most pressing priority is health-care reform.

I’m talkin’ REFORM, as in bringing charges DOWN to something approaching a reasonable, logical level.

How in the world would “rock star researchers” help bring down costs? Won’t happen, right? All they would do is add fuel to the health-care rocket ship.

I encourage you, then, Jackson County residents, to do as I plan to do: Vote “No” on the Civic Council Sales Tax.

Correction: It’s Donald Hall Jr. who’s out front for the sales tax.

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Here’s an update on the death of former Kansas City Councilman Charles Hazley.

Jim Bowers, a Kansas City lawyer who was a longtime friend of Hazley, said Hazley died Monday of sickle cell anemia.

Bowers said Hazley, 71, had the disease about five years and that he had been hospitalized with complications several times.

A story about Hazley’s death appeared in The Star on Thursday, but the story did not say when Hazley died or the cause. An obituary has not run, but Bowers said he thought an obit might run tomorrow.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s web site says that sickle cell anemia is most common in people whose families come from Africa, South or Central America, the Caribbean islands, Mediterranean countries, India, and Saudi Arabia.

In the United States, the web site says, sickle cell affects 70,000 to 100,000 people and that the condition occurs in about 1 in 12 African Americans.

Wikipedia describes the disease as a hereditary blood disorder, characterized by red blood cells that assume an abnormal, rigid, elongated shape. The site goes on to say that “sickling decreases the cells’ flexibility and results in a risk of various complications.”

Hazley served on the council from 1971 to 1991. He went off after KC voters approved a ballot measure limiting council members to two consecutive four-year terms. The proposal was aimed partly at Hazley and a longtime council ally, Bobby Hernandez, who were elected in districts where they were virtually unbeatable.

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Charles Hazley. Former City Councilman. A man I will not miss.

The Star reported today that Hazley died recently. The  news story did not say when.

The headline over political reporter Dave Helling’s story read “KC political powerhouse Charles Hazley dies at 71.”

I knew Hazley well. As a reporter for The Star, I covered City Hall from 1985 to 1995. Hazley was on the council from 1971 to 1991. It took a Kansas City Charter Amendment to get him and his long-term ally Bobby Hernandez off the council.

The charter change, which voters approved, limited council members to two consecutive four-year terms. The proposal was aimed partly at Hazley and Hernandez, who were elected in districts — not citywide — and had been virtually invulnerable to election challenges.

Council members are supposed to work part time, giving them time to work at other, primary jobs. But that’s about all that Hazley (and Hernandez and some others) did. They made a career out of part-time service on the City Council.

Helling called Hazley “one of the most important politicians in Kansas City for three decades.” If, by important, he means manipulative and crafty, that’s true. But, no, hardly one of the most important. Not compared to truly important former council members such as Bruce R. Watkins, Bob Lewellen and Emanuel Cleaver.

Hernandez and Hazley were in the pocket of the developer Frank Morgan and his cronies, including lawyer I.I. Ozar. They also kowtowed to development attorney Jim Bowers, a partner with White, Goss, Bowers, March Schulte & Weisenfels.

Morgan and Dreiseszun are dead. I believe Ozar is still alive, and Bowers is still going strong.

Hazley was fairly successful at rounding up the seven votes (out of 13) needed to get pet projects approved.

I remember one time (but not the issue) when he had the votes he needed but someone who had committed to him inadvertently voted the wrong way. The measure came up a vote short. Very calmly, Hazley rose and asked for a re-vote. The second time, the errant council members changed his or her vote, and the measure passed.

…Helling said that Hazley “often tangled with reporters.”

That’s right. And the main reason was that when reporters would challenge him on something, he often threw down the race card.

I recall a time when I was working on a story where it appeared that Hazley had a conflict of interest. This was before the council voted. The day in question a newly hired reporter was tagging along with me as I made my rounds.

With her in tow, I caught up with Hazley in the City Hall parking garage, below City Hall, and expressed my concern. Hazley immediately got defensive and started yelling at me, saying several times, “That’s racist!

The new reporter stood by, watching wide eyed. Just to rub it in, Hazley turned to her before heading for his car and said, “Good to meet you; if you ever need anything, give me a call.”

A few days later, when the issue came before the council for a vote, Hazley rose and asked the city attorney if the circumstances tying him to the issue amounted to a conflict of interest.

I’ll never forget the brief exchange that followed.

Rich Ward, city attorney at the time, stood up and said, “Not necessarily.”

As soon as Ward began to launch into an explanation, Hazley cut him off, saying, “That’s OK; that’s all I need to know.”

With that, he announced that he had a possible conflict of interest and would be abstaining on the issue.

I recall another time that Hazley tried to engineer a large payment of taxpayer funds — several thousand dollars — to a professional basketball player (I believe it was Sam Lacey of the Kansas City Kings) to appear at some event for youngsters.

When I challenged Hazley on that, he denied any involvement and said that Assistant City Manger James I. Threatt had put the deal together.

Threatt, a guy I liked a lot and who had a great sense of humor, came up with some vague, lame explanation and essentially took the fall for Hazley.

Thereafter, Threatt, who died several years ago, occasionally would greet me, especially when others were around, by saying:

“There he is — the man who tried to kill basketball!”

Anyway, I hope Hazley is in heaven today…But I hope we don’t see another one like him on the City Council.

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