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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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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